A week ago, we launched Page Bureau, a new product meant to help professionals get online faster and better. As a service-focused business that puts clients first and foremost (and probably then some), it was a bit of hell getting this off the ground. Page Bureau is quite literally a dream come true—and many years in the making.
Page Bureau is a product-based website delivery service (nothing like a nicotine delivery system). It combines the best of template design, with its ease of use and fast on-ramping for clients, and the best of a professional services firm, with its knowledge and understanding of client needs, wants and idiosyncrasies. With a $500 investment and a bit of writing provided by the client, we take all of the guesswork out of creating a simple, mobile-friendly website that represents a professional’s marketing interests.
Let’s face it—it’s a pain in the arse putting up a website. But we do it almost every day. The goal of Page Bureau is to help professionals do it without the arse pain.
The Page “Bureauiste”Professionals—doctors, lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, marketers, writers and consultants of all stripes—are our target audience. The Page Bureau concept is built around our observation and market research that, though these types of individuals often have financial and technical resources, they are also highly underserved in the design marketplace. Sure, they could get a website via any number of sites and online applications and template retailers—but most do not have the time, patience or desire to simply deal.
CannibalismWhy would a design firm create a potentially cannibalistic set of tools for smaller clients? We typically charge about $10,000 for a website. Aren’t we leaving money on the table when Page Bureau sites cost $500—something to the tune of $9,500?
The answer is ‘no’. The Internet has fully disrupted nearly every single industry—from music to banking to retail. It’s now in the process of transforming books, movies, and healthcare and it won’t stop there. The Internet levels the playing field in nearly all industries, creating massive new risk and reward for those willing to sweat the details.
We are quickly moving to a place where marketing websites will either be inexpensive, commoditized, and simple or they will be expensive, customized, and feature-full. As experienced travellers of the latter category, Page Bureau is our attempt to explore the first.
Ready for YouPage Bureau is code complete now but will be constantly refined and revisited based on user comments. We’re looking for new customers that want their business to shine online. I hope you’ll consider giving it a whirl.
Exhibit A: Superhuman strength
In my spare time, I serve on the board of the provincial chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada. The national organization, started in 1956, provides advocacy, resources, and certification for practicing designers and educators throughout the country and works very hard on behalf of its members. It is the only national organization that acts as a voice for design in and for Canada and promotes ethical and sustainable business practices.
The local chapter, GDC Manitoba, has a strong membership base of about 90 design professionals, educators and students who are committed to providing the highest standards of design in the industry. The chapter provides mentoring and outreach to younger designers as well as professional development. And we run and manage Pecha Kucha Night Winnipeg, a very well-attended event that hosts local presenters of all persuasions four times per year.
We are constantly seeking new and dedicated members to keep the flame. Despite the fact that designers are moving their services and adopting their tools to online audiences—or should be if they have not already—there is nothing quite like a printed piece to help connect with prospective members, communicate our message of goodwill and professionalism, and inspire folks to join. (As an aside, I hope that paper will never be lost from the communications tool belt; its sustainability is proven, despite its reputation.)
Last week we ran a second printing of the brochure, designed by us at Manoverboard. The brochure seeks to promote the chapter and its members and acts a small conduit to potential businesses and nonprofits seeking to hire members. The brochure features 10 members—from design agency owners, in-house designers, freelancers and a photographer—and explains in short, pertinent language why they are members of the GDC.
It was an honor helping to create and direct the design and production of this brochure. Many thanks to Karen Niedzwiecki for her help and guidance. You can download a PDF [big file: 8.6MB] and if you’d like a physical copy, please let us know.
Seeing as this post is the first I’ll be writing, a quick introduction is in order. I’m Daniel Lamb, Manoverboard’s in-house designer/developer. Over the last six months, my web design energies have been focused on two areas: using WordPress as a platform for user-maintainable websites, and making those websites responsive.
I have to admit it’s the responsive bit that excites me the most. About nine months ago, I decided to take my first crack at responsive web design and I have been loving it ever since. Naturally I used my personal portfolio as a safe sandbox to play in. What once was a static, fixed-width website is now a highly responsive, wordpress powered one!
If you’re two paragraphs in, and you’re asking yourself, “what is a responsive website,” I would encourage you to read Andrew’s previous blog post, Responsive Web Design Toward. Andrew recounts a talk he gave for New Media Manitoba back in May of last year which will serve as a good primer.
* * *
When you start developing websites that need to function on tiny devices, you quickly realize that you can’t fit a whole lot on a screen the size of your hand. Things like sidebars and widgets, and other “junk” go right out the window. Big banner images take up way too much space. More than one column of readable text becomes a luxury you likely can no longer afford. You begin to feel like a cartoon mechanic under the hood of a car, throwing parts of the engine over your shoulder while saying, “We don’t need this, or this, or this…” and so on.
It’s important to remove only what you have to, and reconfigure or rearrange the things you can save. The early wave of m-dot websites, while good intentioned, made one critical mistake. They believed that people on mobile sites would want to do a different set of things on their mobile device than they would on a desktop. In reality, people using smartphones and tablets expect to be able to do everything they can do on a desktop, and if you hide content or functionality from them, they will feel confused, cheated or even angry.
Once you’ve made all your decisions about what you need and what you can live without, the first thing you’ll have to deal with is the main navigation. The approach that I prefer lately is something I first saw while visiting Starbucks.com on an iPod touch. If you don’t have a smartphone, that’s okay—me neither. To see the same thing, you can just scale your browser window until it’s really really narrow. As soon as your window drops below 600 pixels wide, the normal navigation at the top disappears, and is replaced by an unfamiliar icon.
Three horizontal lines.
Simple and elegant, it is both representational of a list, and vague enough to represent a menu of any configuration. After a bit more research it turned out that it’s not just Starbucks taking this approach, it’s everywhere (in a variety of flavors, which is appropriate given that the icon is sometimes called a ‘hamburger’), and is fast becoming an accepted standard. Smashing Magazine is calling it the Semantic, Responsive Nav Icon.
In a matter of months, this will likely become widely accepted and understood to represent a menu, just as its iconic predecessors like the floppy disc and trash can are forever linked with the hidden meanings they carry in a digital context.
But, this technology is still new—and still very much in a state of flux. There might still be a few straglers who look at Starbucks.com on their phone and say, “Hey, there’s no menu. How am I supposed to get around on this site?”, a little hand-holding couldn’t hurt right?
On a website we just finished, CJNA Architects, I put an info box on the homepage explaining that the icon at the top will open a menu. On larger displays, the message is hidden because it is no longer relevant—which is interesting because it’s usually the small display where we hide things.
This little helper message is a small touch, but a considered one. This message is probably only going to help a small handful of people but if one extra line of code is the difference between some visitors “getting it” or “not getting it”, then why not right?
If you have moment, visit CJNA Architects.
Whew. It was a busy year, that 2012. We laughed. We cried. Instead of printing annual calendars, which I’ve been doing since 2002, I decided it was time to give this thing called the Web a shot. We put our heads together and came up with an illustrated list of everything important (well, almost) that was accomplished last year. I hope you like it. Look closely for the animation in the animated gifs.
A few weeks ago, I received one of those rare opportunities to write for a new publication. Granted, publications—and websites in particular—come and go. But I’ve been following Medium for a little while and I was honored to be asked to participate.
Started by Ev Williams, one of the founders of Blogger, and Biz Stone, one of the founders of Twitter, Medium aims to provide a range of new and diverse ideas through a website where writing and reading are the primary activities. At the present, there are no ads, no social media functionality (though you do need a Twitter account to sign in, naturally), and no comments. The clean interface, designed for legibility and usability, makes the consumption of the website a joy.
Ev Williams writes in his introduction:
Medium is based on the belief that the sharing of ideas and experiences is what moves humanity forward. The Internet is the greatest idea-sharing tool ever imagined, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what it’s capable of.
Thus far, I have written a few pieces (you can find my bald head in a circle here), including What Not to Do to Medium, which goes into why I think Medium should change—but only slightly, at least at first. I also write a piece called There Goes the Ecosystem, about the use of ecological terms to describe desiccated technologies, and and a piece on iTunes 11 that stayed on Medium’s front page for about 28 hours.
Take a look around. These are the best of times for content on the web. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
With the massive growth of social media over the past few years, email newsletters have been getting little to no attention as a marketing and communications tool.
It’s pretty clear why:
- Email newsletters are not sexy
- The newsletter concept is old, reaching as far back as pamphleteers during the U.S. Revolutionary War
- Email is old; the first emails as we know them were sent in 1982, when I was in high school
- HTML emails are very hard to code; Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, has refused to support email standards
The reality is that email newsletters are powerful, motivating, and highly useful vehicles for all kinds of communications. For all of the exact reasons above, e-newsletters work:
- People read them because they have opted in; it’s a marriage not an illicit affair
- The concept of the pamphlet has legs—almost 300 years of leg history
- Email is not going away, despite the gnashing of teeth among prognosticators
- Like basic website templates, basic e-newsletters have become WYSIWYG (and pre-tested) in many instances
From a client perspective, an email newsletter provides tremendous control over content, timing, delivery, design, and audience. For very little ongoing cost and a small upfront investment in design and development, an email newsletter provides clients with rich data about their subscribers. This cannot be said of websites; despite Google Analytics’ recent addition of its real time reports, allowing you to see how many people are visiting a given page at that very moment, the data is not easily actionable. Facebook’s business page analytical tools undoubtedly useful but one still needs to get visitors there in the first place.
It strikes me that email newsletters perform three business functions very well and simultaneously. They communicate a message or set of messages, they motivate decisions or spur action, and they provide rich sets of data on subscriber behavior.
Emails newsletters may be the ugly stepsister or stepbrother of shiny social media. But they provide a valuable and too often overlooked vehicle. Every client that uses their email newsletters on a regularly basis also regularly loves them.