Recently in Web design

17 luxury brands with poor web user experience

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This is a good article:

I've always found it ironic that some of the most fancy hotels have some of the worst websites in the world. It's the same with restaurants. Both are long serving fans of Flash and autosound, and the result can be hellish.

If websites are particularly bad, and if I'm the one tasked with booking or buying something, then I can tell you for a fact that I will look elsewhere. The problem is that there isn't always an 'elsewhere'. Luxury brands pride themselves on their uniqueness, after all. If your better half wants some Jimmy Choo for her birthday then that's what you need to buy.

I work a lot with luxury retailers (and have also done work for hotels and restaurants) - and many of the clients tend to still have a lot of misconceptions about the internet in general and what a "website" really is. What you can't forget in the end is that even if you are a Gucci or Ferrari or whatever - you still have to have a website that defines the user's definition/expectation of a website. Can you market or brand and have one off amazing visuals, images, presentations, movies, etc. Yes, definitely - but in the right place and at the right time (meaning, not onload when someone firsts visits!). But the web still has a core demographic of people looking for information.

And if they have come to your website, they usually want to be able to find that information, in a click or two. Splash screens, pop ups, begging people to join your email list or like your Facebook page, auto play music, etc. - these are distractions and at worse turn users off so much that they leave your site and maybe even begin to have a negative feeling towards your brand or business. So don't blow it. Read the article and get an idea of some of the specific mistakes still being made.

Horrible restaurant websites

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Go read (hat tip to Jakob Nielsen).

Here is my take/addition to this article - people (chefs) just don't realize/know what they need, and they think that they have to sell or dress up their websites just like they do their food - and so they get sold on things by poor developers, or the developer just says yes to whatever the chef wants for fear of losing the job, etc. (and I bet that most chefs/restaurant owners are cheap when it comes to the web because they don't believe in it).

Anyway - there are basic simple concepts that must be followed, as always, no matter what the industry is and we talk about them all the time. Simple navigation, clean design, information quickly and easily. It isn't rocket science - there is no need to "tart" it up - especially in the increasingly mobile world.

This is all a restaurant website needs:

Hours, Location (and a map with directions or directions available via Google), contact phone and email, sample menu (no prices!), sample wine list, and a photo or two.

You want to go crazy and plan to update the site all the time? Add a current menu with prices, current wine list with prices, and a photo album. Perhaps a link to reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. Maybe a sign up form for a newsletter (but only if you are going to really send a newsletter).

Insanity levels would include a reservation system via form of some kind.

Otherwise, use blogger or Facebook to add current menu items, announce specials, news, etc. Anything else is really overkill, and not anything someone who wants to eat your food needs.

We make websites

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Starting in 2010 (so that would be now) we are back in the website business. For various reasons I wasn't taking on outside work (other than that of people I already knew) but for various reasons we are back in the marketplace.

I prefer to focus on things that hold an interest to me personally and fit in with my expertise - destination travel, the Caribbean, Italy, wine, etc. For example, I don't want to make a website for a candle shop - anywhere. We specialize in travel and tourism marketing/destination content, with a sprinkling of food and wine, and some art, architecture and history sprinkled on top.

We prefer to use available tools, are into LAMP, like to try to code to standards, and must work in an environment with a CMS (preferably Movable Type). We can give you everything you need, but we'll work to keep the price real. We can start small and grow with you, from a flat site with a few pages, to dynamic sites with all the latest tools, bells, and whistles. E-commerce is also available at various levels of sophistication. SEO is built in. Reporting is by Google Analytics. Social networking is available.

If you have any interest we opened up a business card type of site here with an example of our work and contact info - I will be adding links to more client work soon.

Happy 2010 -


Common Sense Web & Data Design

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We are more than 15 years into this web thing. It is about time that amateurs (because that is what you are) start to grasp the basics of common sense.

First of all, most websites are small business websites - people that want to be found to sell their crap to us. So don't forget you have a client, and that they are probably busy trying to run their business and not their website (that is where you came in). When you set up something new, stick to a few basic concepts - like calling things by their names, as in the real world. Don't use cryptic acronyms or abbreviations. If you are making a website and there is geography involved, say states, call them by their names - like - not which means nothing to anyone.

Keep that in mind. Then when you name a file, think the same way - the HTML page is about NY? Then call it something like about-new-york.html - not pages1ny76.html

These concepts are not hard, and should extend as far into database creation as possible also. If the URL is eventually going to have to include a query string or data base table name for some reason, at least try to use plain, simple words - with dashes-in-between if necessary.

These little tips can go a long - LONG - way in making whatever you are doing a success, for you, and your client.

Have a nice day.

Hosting a secure image for PayPal checkout

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PayPal is constantly fighting off fraudulent attempts by hackers to gain access to their system and/or their users information. At some point there was a genius who managed to do something nefarious through the PayPal users logo image, so now this image must be served from a secure server (a website/server starting with https, meaning the data transfered is encrypted in transit).

Of course, many people are using PayPal because they don't have a secure server, so unless you want the generic PayPal logo over your checkout pages you have to find one to be able to use a custom logo.

SSLpic is here to solve that issue - this single function website allows you to upload your image, which is then hosted on their secure server. You get the code back to enter in PayPal, and voila, you're done.

Guestbook in Movable Type 4

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We have a new client who wanted to add a good old fashioned guestbook to their new site - so naturally we obliged. I came up with a quick and simple guestbook utilizing the MT Entry template, the Comment Form template, and a single entry. Since the site we are working on is running MT 4 but we were only using "Pages" for their content, we had the Entry and Comment Form templates available to carve up at will and didn't need to create a whole new blog (like some older examples do).

This is basically what I did:

  1. Stripped the Entry template and put my simplified code in there (the code that gives the Entries the same look and feel as the rest of the site)
  2. Added back into the body the mt:EntryBody tag (the title of the page is an image and that is hard coded in the entry)
  3. Below that, added the mt:Include module="Comment Form" tag
  4. Don't forget to make sure that the javascript link remains in the head of the document if you strip it clean like I did (hat tip to Tim Appnel)
  5. Save and publish this.

So since the only "Entry" is the guestbook itself, that is pretty much it for the Entry template. The other main modification is to the Comment Form template. Here is what I did there:

  1. Changed the instances of "Comment" to "Guesbook" where necessary
  2. Displayed the comments below the form (basically just cut and pasted the whole chunk of code)
  3. Commented out/deleted the URL field and other extraneous links and information (replies, preview, etc.)
  4. Did some styling of the template to make the comments stand out
  5. Save this and publish again.

GALLERIA - Javascript Image Gallery

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This is a good image gallery script library:

Galleria is a javascript image gallery written in jQuery. It loads the images one by one from an unordered list and displays thumbnails when each image is loaded. It will create thumbnails for you if you choose so, scaled or unscaled, centered and cropped inside a fixed thumbnail box defined by CSS.

Here is a quick demo:

Browser Market Share

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Here is a quick snapshot of the browser version marketshare as of December 08 from MarketShare:

IE 7.0 46.77%
IE 6.0 20.46%
Firefox 3.0 17.18%
Firefox 2.0 3.77%
Safari 3.2 3.39%
Safari 3.1 3.28%

Two things of interest here....IE6 still has a 20% market share and FF3.0 has climbed to 17% share in a very short period of time.


| Comment is a new micro site I am developing. This is part labor of love, part testing of ideas, and part building some traffic (hopefully) for another related business.

We have had a lot of luck with something that most people think is now passe - and that is literal domain names that match search terms. My theory is this - cool domain names are cool - they can be catchy, and that is great, especially if you are Facebook or Google. But - if you have a focused site or niche (i.e. it is small and it is always going to be small) and you really want to be at the top of organic search results for it, having a domain name that matches keywords can be very important. We have tested a few small sites using this method and we rank #1 on Google for all of them.

So has been live since yesterday - let's see how long it takes to show up in Google.

Coral World website redesign

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coral-world-website.jpgWe finally finished a new website for Coral World St. Thomas. This was a difficult project - the client had a strong sense of what they wanted the site to look like, and a lot of time was spent making their vision fit into the new site. Once the look and feel were decided upon, we finalized a template and were able to make it work with the existing content. There are still tables at use, but we used as much CSS as we felt comfortable with. It looks great across all browsers and platforms. The most important thing on our end was that it delivered a brand new CMS (the whole site is built on Movable Type) system to the client. It is always bittersweet doing a job like this for an established client - we gain a one time design job, but then lose on the recurring revenue of maintenance work - but - honestly, who wants to copy and paste Word docs into new HTML, hand code links, and maintain a site map? We also gave them a lot of new functionality (posting new articles/press releases, email alerts, site search, automated site map, RSS feed) that was mostly made possible by using MT, as well as a couple of small touches (like the favorite icon) that I really like and think are important and give the site some polish.

Google Calendar published in different languages

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cordon-bleu-new.jpgWe really believe in leveraging third party (read FREE) tools into our projects. Google is really great at providing applications that can be integrated with websites - like their calendar. As we develop the new site for the Cordon Bleu Cooking School of Florence (old site!), we are utilizing,, and the Google Calendar. One issue we had was being able to display the daily course schedule in English and Italian to end users, but to have the admin(s) only maintain one calendar.

After some searching we found a post on the Google Calendar Help group that solved our problem: you can append to the end of the iframe tag (used to embed your calendar into an html page) a language parameter that will force the calendar to display in the specified language. The code is &hl=(2 letter code) - or for example for German the code would be: &hl=de There are also some additional variables.

The Gold Market

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thegoldmarket.jpgWe finally have live a jewelry store we did for a client in Italy. The store is called The Gold Market, but unfortunately the URL is not the same - that name was hijacked sometime ago (the client had it registered but lost it - like millions of other small businesses have). You can find the site at:

We tried to do this job as inexpensively as we could for the client. I will try to give you an idea of what the means from a web designer/developers prospective.

First, since the client is in Italy, we had to find an e-commerce solution that would work with their banks, etc. I did a pretty thorough search and came to a lot of dead ends. I finally decided that Zen Cart could give us what we needed in a shopping cart (too much really) and decided to use PayPal for all forms of payment (Zen Cart has a pretty straight forward integration with Pay Pal).

One of the reasons I went with Zen Cart was that I found a pretty decent template for a jewelry store that I planned to adapt to fit our clients needs. In hindsight this may not have been the best way to start with Zen Cart - I may have learned more about their templates and page creation options, etc. if I started with their default template (which is so ugly though it may scare you away from the solution altogether).

Anyway - we ended up changing the template quite a bit. You can change most of the layout of the page from the control panel (where things show up, when they show, etc.) and you can change fonts, colors, and other elements from the style sheet. We now have a custom header in place, and have changed most of the colors.

The most time consuming part of this project was getting the photos of the jewelry. We went through a couple of fits and starts, and once we did finally get the images, we did spend some time doing some extra editing. Then you have to upload the images, put all the products info in, etc. Zen Cart handles this all pretty well - but it does take time when you create 50 new items.

So the site is now live, but we have yet to do any promotion. Depending on what the client wants to spend we will take some time to submit the URL to search engines, make some blog posts about it, and look for directories and other places where it is appropriate to list it. On their end they need to figure out who is going to be in charge of filling the orders!

This project came in at about $5,000 US. That included registering the domain and finding the host, installing the shopping cart, designing the cart and site, inventory upload, and PayPal integration. If you need an on-line shopping solution, give us a shout.

Sign up for PayPal and start accepting credit card payments instantly.

Case Studies

| Comment have a few new clients who we are helping - either to improve the user experience and functionality of their websites, or to increase their traffic and commerce (or both). I am going to try to present them here as case studies, and I am going to focus on one in particular: The Cordon Bleu School of Florence.

This is one of those sites that really got off on the wrong foot - and now is stuck with no organic search traffic. A quick list of the issues: a wasted gateway/entrance page, an all image navigation system, extensive use of pop-up windows, lots of missing information, bad English translations, no site map, bad page titles, file names and directory structure, etc. etc. etc. We just got a hold of this site and we are going to work on it in stages due to the budget. First thing will be a new home page that clearly explains what you can find on the site and where, a text based navigation system, a site map, and better page titles and files names.

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