Why Affording An Agency Website Is Like Eating Cake

October 29th, 2015 in Apps, Bespoke, Design, Development, Marketing, Web apps cake Design development Web website

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I realized the other day that I’ve been spending a lot of time at networking events in recent weeks. This is not just because it’s a great way of scoring free cake (hardly a networking event in the country now does not supply afternoon tea as standard, I can only-slightly-smugly report). It’s because these sorts of meetings offer great ways to meet new clients, and understand how all businesses are thinking.

One of the constant themes of my conversations with people from SMEs is one of cost – or, maybe more accurately, how expensive many businesses imagine a professional website might be.

We’ve all met the small business owner who asked his friend to build a website, and wound up with one that was half-finished; we’ve all probably tried to build a website using one of these ‘out-of-the-box’ services or web builders, and found it just cannot do the job. The fact is, your business’s website is ever more important – and needs to be professionally tailored to the particulars of your business. That takes a proper design agency.

The people I talk with over all those cream teas, however, are always worried that they simply can’t afford an agency. You might expect me to try and convince them otherwise, and, I confess, I do – but it’s a fact we don’t want to hide that, sure, we’re more expensive than using a website builder’s templates or getting your mate to do it.

But you invest a lot in your business, and an investment repays over time. We believe that the little bit extra we cost – and it’s nowhere near as much as many people seem to fear! – is worth the investment, and will help your business be the best it can be.

Come to think of it, it’s all a bit like cake (yes, I have cake on the brain – why do you ask?): the better the ingredients, and the better the baker, the tastier the final product. If you’re trying to impress, you don’t use value flour, you don’t scrimp on the icing, and you don’t ask someone who’s never made a cake before to whip one up for you. Your business will look worse than it is – and be less accessible to customers than it should be – unless you build your website like you’d bake that special sponge.

At Image+, we build a website around your business: we’ll design it to look uniquely yours, build in the features you need and those customers expect, and write the content for you so that it’s all professional and compelling. You’ll have face-to-face meetings with us; we’ll be on the end of the phone whenever you have a question; and we’ll do it all for you – you won’t have to fiddle with a single button if you don’t want to!

Let’s say you spend about £3000 on your website with us – that’s a standard amount for a fully-featured website, tailored for you, though we’ve done cheaper – and let’s say it lasts three years before it needs a bit of a facelift. That’s just £80 per month, which is a great deal given that proper websites, as opposed to bad ones, are proven to generate leads, improve repeat business, and increase your brand’s reach. From this perspective, dealing with a tricky online website builder that churns out a basic cookie-cutter website and doesn’t offer any after-sales support seems like the bad investment, right?

So. Not only is an all-singing, all-dancing agency website cheaper than you think; it justifies whatever extra expenditure it may incur over the cheap-but-far-from-cheerful alternatives. So why not pop in and have a chat with us about what we can do for you? I’ll even bring cake.

Mobile Web Design: Websites, Faster

August 20th, 2013 in Design, Development Design load time mobile Responsive Web

Websites are many things: entertainment, social spaces, even works of art. Primarily, however, they’re sources of information, ways to communicate a message to the person who views it.

From a business perspective, this function of websites is of course key. The web can represent a significant investment for a company, so it’s important that you start getting ROI on that investment as soon as possible.

We’ve spoken before about the importance of responsive and mobile web design as a key driver of that ROI: it ensures that no user is ever bounced from your website just because it won’t work on their device of choice. We pride ourselves on producing websites that are cross-platform compatible – so that your message can get through across every and any digital medium.

That’s why the latest pronouncements from Google caught our eye. Websites are most valuable to you insofar as they communicate quickly and cleanly, grabbing a user’s attention and keeping it. To this end, in their recently published guidelines Google have adopted a ruthless ‘one second rule’ for mobile web design:

“…the whole page doesn’t have to render within this budget, instead, we must deliver and render the above the fold (ATF) content in under one second, which allows the user to begin interacting with the page as soon as possible. Then, while the user is interpreting the first page of content, the rest of the page can be delivered progressively in the background.”

Keeping on top of what Google say is a good idea in general (after all, they’re the ones who decide how to rank that site of yours!), but these new guidelines are particularly interesting. Quick-loading websites are the holy grail of designers for good reason: users are increasingly impatient, and they want their information quickly.

The challenge, though, is still to design a website which looks great, whilst keeping the load time down. Google’s guidelines are canny on this front, too: only the first part of your content, the attention-grabbing stuff, needs to load immediately. Grab your user’s attention, and let the rest load in the background until they’re read to scroll down.

We’re old hands at this sort of mobile web design trickery, and we’re always expanding our skillset to keep up with the latest developments and demands. So – whether you want a new website or to redesign your current one – drop us a line to discuss how we can ensure they say what you need to, and quickly.

How Project Managment Is Like Pizzas

July 5th, 2013 in Bespoke, Development, Web management project Web

It’s easy to get so lost in everything you have got to do, that you wind up doing hardly any of it. Of course, as a business you find ways to manage your work stream – and our bucketful of happy customers goes some way to showing that we’ve made it into something of an art form. But there’s always room to improve.

Pizza App

In fact, so busy have we been in ensuring our customers get what they want, when they want it, that we’ve never quite got around to something we’ve always thought might help them even more. This is a common problem for web designers – when, whilst designing your client’s websites to be the very best they can be, do you get time to enhance your own web platforms? Finally, we’ve found time – and we’re pretty excited about it.

We’ve always wanted our very own web-based project schedule system, a web application with the power to make our project management even more efficient. It’s been designed to offer an easy way to manage projects, schedule tasks to team members, and generate precise dates – even times – when clients can expect to have specific tasks completed.

This precision is helpful to clients, of course – they can plan their marketing and other activities on the basis of very clear timelines – but also to us – because we can clearly plan work streams in such a way that we can move onto to the next project seamlessly and even more quickly than before.

Our clients will receive a Dominoes-style pizza dashboard: at every stage, this system will tell you that your ‘pizza’ is ordered, that it’s being prepared, that it’s in the oven, being quality checked or being delivered. Of course, this equates to the various stages of web design: in development, being built, being tested, awaiting final approval and, ultimately, visible to the world.

This visualisation of the project management really helps everyone understand where they are, where they’re going … and how long they can expect it to take. In today’s business environment, that sort of specificity is invaluable.

So we’re far from busy doing nothing – and we feel like we’ve got more time than ever before to devote to each project, properly and in its place! Everyone’s a winner.

Fancy a slice of pizza?

Learning By Playing: Apps And iOS7

June 28th, 2013 in Development, Web App beta development ios ios7 Web

There’s nothing developers like more than a new toy to play with. On the other hand, there’s also no bigger challenge than a whole new platform: new software means changes to old applications or websites, to factor in the changes made to the operating systems on which they run.

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That’s why we download iOS 7 Beta as soon as it became available: in part because we just wanted to have a play, and in part because it’s important to our products and those of our customers that we figure out how the new OS for iPads and iPhones actually works.

Apple is a victim of its own success: its iOS system became so successful that it was imitated by competitors the world over, and that led to some starting to argue that Apple was losing its cutting edge. So iOS 7 is an exciting opportunity for the firm to make a new start, but also for the apps and websites we design to be viewed and used on those platforms to take on new lives and new functionalities.

We’re not one of the major app developers who are effectively being part of Apple’s free-of-charge testing community, but that means in many ways that we’re free to explore the Beta release with our own needs in mind. The good news is that we like this release – we prefer it to the previous version, and bar a few glitches we thing it’s almost ready for the market.

Where Apple goes, other companies will follow (this piece at Forbes is a good summary of the current lie of the iOS 7 land), and that’s why it’s been so important for us to start testing the release as soon as we could. The testing stage is crucial for any piece of software, and getting to the capabilities and quirks of an Operating System is particularly key: we can now leverage that knowledge for our clients, after all.

Indeed, bespoke we applications in particular demand an in-depth knowledge and familiarity with the platform on which they will be displayed. The special functionalities we build specifically for our clients will only work if we know how to exploit the features of the latest OS. We’ve just delivered abespoke web app to Peugeot for the launch of their new 208 car – so we know what we’re talking about on the web app front.

And now, with time to spare, we know what we’re talking about on the iOS 7 front, too. Time to have another play, I think…

Web Accessibility Standards: Practical Politics

May 17th, 2013 in Design, Search Engine Optimisation, Web accessibility Design eu standards w3c Web

They say you should never talk politics if you want to avoid an argument, so it might be worth skating over this week’s ding-dong in Parliament about the European Union, and whether it’s worth the UK being part of it. There are plenty of arguments on either side, and very few of them have to do with marketing your business online.

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This is a blog about just that, of course, and yet that’s precisely why we mention Europe: the EU, believe it or not, has quite a bit to do with how you might market your business online. This isn’t just about the headline-grabbing stuff about privacy laws, Google and Apple; like it or loathe it, the EU also promotes something uncomplicated which is very good indeed for your business, and for Google’s.

At Image+, we design our websites with what are known as ‘web accessibility standards’ very much in mind. These are a numbers of rules, guidelines and design criteria which aim to ensure your website is as viewable to as many different people as possible. Devised and promoted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), accessibility standards are important for the same reason that responsive web design is important: they make your website more flexible.

There are all sorts of reasons someone may have difficulty enjoying your website to the full: they may be partially sighted or hard of hearing, have a physical disability or learning difficulties. They may be elderly or in a rural location. The key is that W3C accessibility guidelines offer a powerful way of designing websites in such a way that they reach as many people as possible. This may be achieved by offering for alternative text for images, in case on slow connections they do not load; it might be providing transcripts of audio, or offering a website which can function without use of the mouse. Accessibility is about imagining the full range of your audience and catering for them.

This not only fulfills your business’s social responsibility – it brings your products to more people. That’s why we routinely design websites which tick all the accessibility boxes. There are many designers who take short cuts or simply don’t have the knowledge necessary to ensure their websites are fully compliant with W3C standards. Your website will be the poorer for using them.

To risk getting involved in that spat in the Commons, the EU are fully signed up to W3C and promote it strongly – indeed, sometimes it’s not strong enough for them! In that as in so many things, the EU is a complicated beast which occassions fierce debate … unlike web standards, which are a no-brainer. Ask about incorporating them into your website today.

And They’re Off: Web Apps And The Competitive Edge

April 4th, 2013 in Bespoke, Web App Bespoke Web

Whilst putting together this month’s newsletter (for which you can sign up here), I looked back over our post about the Cheltenham Festival and SEO… and reflected that time is moving so quickly that we’ve already reached Grand National weekend! Time flies when you’re making websites, as the old saying almost goes.

742787371On which note, it’s worth pointing out to you some of the projects which have seen us glued to our screens recently. In particular, two new web applications have taken considerable effort, since they were built from the ground up, bespokely fitted to our clients’ needs.

Web applications are essentially modules you can plug into a website in order to achieve a certain effect or functionality. Many websites are required to fulfil a series of functions which can be applied ‘out of the box’: common demands such as blogging, interactive menus, video galleries and the like have tried-and-tested solutions which we can implement very smoothly, drawing on our experience of the range of options available.

But it’s also true that a website can achieve a great deal more, and if a client wants their online platform to serve a very specific, even unique, function, we’re always excited to help them achieve that. The code which makes websites work can be written from scratch – and the bespoke solutions we devise together may well become the ‘out of the box’ options of the future.

The first of the new applications we have recently developed is an order processing system for a courier company, Pro 21. Pro 21 had some very particular requirements, including the capacity to allow customers to book directly online, monitor the progress of consignments in real-time, and receive invoices smoothly and efficiently. In order to achieve this, the system has to apply a unique customer ID to each user, and handle an array of data, as well as boast an intuitive interface for customers and administrators alike.

Likewise, the web-based facilities management system we developed for Diamond FS had to handle a wide range of variables in such a way that the data outputted to customers made sense to them quickly and cleanly. Facilities management is a key element of any business with significant infrastructure, making not just the services Diamond FS offers, but the medium through which they are requested and monitored, crucial to both their own success and that of their clients. That made this web application a key element of their offering – and worth doing both properly and bespokely.

In fact, like the Grand National racecourse, which is famously tweaked and tested rigorously and continuously, web applications are all about detail: understanding the specific demands, challenges and opportunities of a given ‘course’ – and fitting the solution to them carefully and with a commitment to ongoing improvement. In this way, we can add real power to your website’s elbow – and give it a USP that will keep users coming back for more.