In implementing a website there are a number of decisions which need to be considered. In a separate blog post I have written about the desired functionality of the website, this post is about how it should look and feel. Whilst I have reasonable technical skills I wouldn’t count myself as a designer, I have had a couple of personal websites for a few years now and I have learned much from that experience for reference my sites are listed below. They are all WordPress with Photocrati Theme based, none of the sites attracts significant traffic as all were designed for specific audiences, accordingly SEO was not something I paid attention to because I wasn’t trying to attract traffic to these sites.
www.lifeintheolddog.co.uk was created as a blog and photo sharing site for friends and family during our 7 month sojourn in South America from Nov 2012 to June 2013. At the time WordPress was the blogging tool of choice and that is the platform I still use today, for all sites, as it has proven a solid base to develop on.
stevesf8.org.uk Created to record my academic studies initially at HND level. It is the site I have used for Professional Contexts blogs in Years 2 and 3 of my BA (Hons) course. All HND projects, final images, sketchbooks and research were completed as blog posts, it was therefore something of a shock to come to Bath Spa and have to use a sketchbook for most projects. Oh how we laughed as we sat around on those cold winter evenings pasting and sticking………
55red.co.uk This was originally going to be my company site, I wanted a short name easy to type and remember because as I indicated in the business plan names based around my name were not really options with a number of photographer “Steve Edwards” sites around the world including US and Australia. So this is now largely defunct, occasionally useful to test new functionality on.
www.clockworkimaging.co.uk My new company site to replace 55red.co.uk, still under development but basically functional as of the end of May 2017.
55red.co.uk has become defunct largely because the domain name, although it met my initial objectives for ease of use, had become misunderstood due to the advent and subsequent heavy marketing of an online gambling site called 32red and people started to assume the site was connected to the gambling industry.
As stated I am not a designer and one of the many advantages of WordPress is you can use themes – basically templates that will automate much of the production of the pages for you. There are thousands of free theme designs, many specifically for photograhers, on the internet and I tried a few but they have limitations for a fully functional commercial site, usually when it comes to advanced features such as e-commerce.
So I decided to purchase a commercial theme – Photocrati – which was less than a $100 and overcame most of these limitations – they claim more than 20,000 active installations. Additionally using a theme is much cheaper than employing a web designer to create even basic layouts and has the added bonus of having an active customer support operation to resolve configuration issues. I would say that using a theme is halfway between a raw WordPress site and the super user friendly environments such as those offered by sites like Wix. So it does require more effort but with the bonus that you retain more control of the eventual site.
You can buy Photocrati for a one time price and use it forever as is or pay an annual fee, $59, and continue to receive support and updates. I have recently opted for this for setting up the new site and feel it represents good value for money. The support service has proven particularly helpful in debugging and configuring the new site. Plus not updating the application means, inevitably, that there will be changes to WordPress that make an old version incompatible. The recent ransom ware attack on the NHS is another example of the potential consequences of not updating older software, the problem is not the lack of functionality in the application but that internal architecture of the software is not up to current standards and becomes vulnerable to attack as this weakness can be more easily exploited.
Having decided 55red.co.uk was no longer fit for purpose, the first thing to do was to obtain a new domain name as whilst it is possible to change the name of an existing web site its fraught with difficulties and far easier to create a new web site with its own domain name from scratch.
As I already discounted using anything based around my own name. I did find and register a few names, as they happened to be on offer for the princely sum of £2 a year at the time, such as swephotography.co.uk and nextimaging.co.uk and lastly aftershockimaging.co.uk. I actually think this last name is quite attractive but probably not suitable for a family portraiture business. It was actually a tongue in cheek reference to the Brexit and US Election results. So if you know of an edgy documentary photographer who wants a cool domain name I have one for sale……..
I did get as far as mocking up a logo.
I am not keen on names containing photography, I think its hard to type and makes for a long domain name, when combined with my initials it seemed meaningless, so swephotography.co.uk was binned. Nextimaging.co.uk I also decided to reject because of the potential clash with the clothing retailer. There were others available such as wiltshireimaging.co.uk as another general recommendation for naming sites is to incorporate your location, Cricklade I felt was too limited and Wiltshire too bland. So I decided on clockworkimaging.co.uk as giving a professional feel, not too long, easy to type and suggesting imagery if not directly photography. There is a school of thought that a company name will be successful in terms of brand recognition depending on how well its marketed rather than just the name itself, for example – Xerox, Google and Kodak are all invented names with no inherent meaning yet all are now thought of as synonymous with their respective industries.
Look and Feel
I researched a number of web sites to find ones I liked for inspiration, I looked at many sites but thought the following sites were the most helpful in determining what I was after – both good and bad.
http://www.danielkennedy.com/ Heavy focus on images, minimal yet clear menu structures making it easy to find your way around.
http://www.jonathanglynnsmith.com/ Large single images, even more minimal menu structure but still easy to navigate.
http://www.kmendozaphoto.com/ This is perhaps minimalism gone too far, small white font on pale background is almost impossible to read and also contains a pet hate, namely background music – nice music but that is not what I am at the site for.
https://www.jillgreenberg.com An example of a site I don’t like at all, the home page is confusing, moving images for no apparent reason and the social media links take you away from the site rather than open in new windows.
I now had a much clearer idea of what I found visually appealing and wanted to include in my own site, starting with a very clean look, this in order to show my images to their best advantage. I think this is generally best with images set against a plain white background to replicate digitally what is generally found in a gallery. I firmly believe the images are the single most important factor on a photography website and need to be central to everything else. I also wanted it to be easy to navigate and personally I like a simple means to do this in terms of menus of obvious clickable links. I am not a fan of having to scroll or guess where to go next, no matter how slick or cool the site looks.
One more site to mention is https://www.foregroundweb.com which I came across in my research, its the company website of a developer who specialises in building photography websites. However the primary attraction of the site to me is the amount of free information available on a variety of relevant topics such as website design and particularly information on SEO which is what I was searching for at the time.
The Photocrati theme is highly customisable in all sorts of ways, from the menu structure to the way images are displayed, fonts used and so forth. As indicated I wanted to have images front and centre and chose to have the front page with images that linked to further examples of that genre of photography. The menu is deliberately simple with the main pages being Home, About, Contact, Galleries and Blog. I may condense this still further as, for example much of the About page could be on the home page to improve SEO ranking. It is clear that refining and developing the website is an ongoing project and I will see where this take me in the coming months.
Font and Logo
In line with the minimalist feel I wanted a sans serif font, I looked at the Google fonts library and selected ‘Noto Sans’ and made this the default font in all the places in Photocrati it can be set including Titles, Descriptions and so forth. The advantage of Google fonts is that firstly, they are free to use and secondly, available anywhere as they can be downloaded on the fly by a web page that requires them. The alternative of using proprietary fonts means a specific font may not always be available and the web page will use a default font as a substitute thus potentially destroying your page design or they have to be embedded in the page source code which can significantly slow down the site as the fonts are being reloaded every time a page is viewed.
For the logo I decided to combine the elements of the name with some graphical elements namely a clock face and a photo of an eye. To save time I looked for royalty free images, there are plenty to choose from on the web.
This was an iterative process and I made a number of versions, some of the key stages are shown below. On reflection it might have been more time effective to have found a graphic designer nonetheless it was an interesting exercise.
Text and clockface is not readable.
Improved readability by changing colour of clock face and central lettering but still not good enough. Addition of name also doubtful.
Much Improved readability but now looks disjointed.
Decided to lose the eye and just use the simple clock face image. By overlaying the text on the image and then deleting any clock elements that clash with a soft brush. This version will be used on the website and the version below on printed material to direct people to the website.
I now had all the design elements necessary to start seriously building the web site. Building a website in WordPress is more effort than some other platforms but in the long term I think the WordPress platform will deliver all I will ever need.