The Sad State Of Fashion Web Design

First of all – my apologies for not posting for so long. Turns out – having a 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 month old baby takes a bit more time than I anticipated.

While helping my wife to pick her career as a makeup artist where she left it off, I had a chance to get introduced to a whole market of people who perceive web in a completely different way than I used to. Remember that old “horizontal scroll is bad” motto? This market has 90% of web sites with horizontal scroll – so it’s a standard. Turns out it’s not such a bad idea anymore, especially for a photo gallery. On any Mac or iPad (which is what 99.9% of people in fashion industry are using) you can flick back and forth using two fingers gesture – something very natural if you think about it. Such gallery layout is something that geek community hasn’t been fond of for quite some time, so almost all portfolio web sites are either pure HTML or built on Flash.

And here’s where the sadness starts.

The Sad State Of Fashion Web Design - Small Business BlogHalf of the web sites just plain broken. Like the one where the contact form was done in classic ASP, the web site was moved to something that looked like Unix-based hosting which made ASP page open in a plain text view.

Another one that I have particularly remember was a Flash-based web site that had a one and a half minute loading splash page. I kid you not – one and a half minute. You know what was on the splash page? Tiny button that says “Enter”. I can only assume there was some kind of music playing, but having a little kid around I keep sound off until I really want to hear something. Once I clicked that tiny “Enter” button I was greeted with another “Loading…” screen for yet another 45 seconds with… (drumroll!) … YET ANOTHER “ENTER” BUTTON! I was done then and there.

Of course, I am not talking about all the web sites that have “Gallery 1”, “Gallery 2” and so on – that’s just bad taste, but it’s not a problem with web design. Problems with web design included – broken image links, designs that screamed 1999, designs where white writing on a pale skin toned background was telling you how to use this web site, designs with non-stop slide show with no way to stop it and so on. Oh, and don’t get me start on some eye-scratching color combinations I tried to not see…

The Sad State Of Fashion Web Design - Small Business BlogThe question I was asking myself is – why? These are the people who work in the Visual Arts department, all their work revolves around creating visual images (and very beautiful images, mind you), creating and maintaining fashion statements. So why all this negligence and overall state of cobbler’s traditional lack of shoes?

Well, first reason is that these people are the least computer literate people you could possibly find. If they see a banner that will tell them they can have their complete web site for free in under 30 minutes – rest assured they will think they’re done in 29. They really don’t see the difference in what kind of presence they have online unless someone explains it to them. And they don’t really want to listen to you anyway.

Next (and that’s a big one) – in fashion industry money change hands a lot later than in almost any other. For example, my web design company will simply refuse to deploy the web site to its live state if the client isn’t sitting next to me with signed check in his or her hands. No money – no deal. In fashion industry it’s a lot more relaxed, I’ve seen checks for services dating back as far as six to eight months. I think only government contracts can beat this timing. Obviously if you are getting paid THAT late – you don’t really want to spend anything on things that are not the top priority.

The Sad State Of Fashion Web DesignPeople who do have money to pay for something decent are just busy. They usually so overly busy with trips (usually – between New York, LA and Miami) that participating in any kind of project longer than 3 minutes requires so much concentration for them that it just isn’t worth the trouble.

And last, but not least – 90% of things that happen in this type of industry are done through personal connections. Chances that someone will look for your portfolio online and then decide to contact you are pretty much the same as with cold-calling sales agent selling you that brand new refrigerator or a time-share. Usually people look you up when they already know something about you. The most important thing is their “digital Rolodex” – Blackberry or iPhone’s address book.

Therefore unless someone will come up with some kind of tool or technology or, better yet, a concept that will make an already established web site into a page in someone else’s address book – the fashion industry is stuck with half-broken, outdated web sites that just show how ignorant their owners are of this particular part of technology.

business clients

Understanding The Web Designer – 10 Critical Questions You Should NOT Be Asking

There is an interesting article on Small Business Branding blog – “10 Critical Questions To Ask A Web Designer”. The post is wrong on so many accounts, it’s would have been easier to ignore it altogether. However, being a lead to a Zealus web design studio for so many years I can’t help but notice how irrelevant most of these questions are – and here’s why:

1. What skills do you or your team posses? HTML, CSS, Drupal, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CGI, Ruby on Rails? – author argues that by listening to the white noise the project lead makes while trying to answer your question you will be able to pick something useful. Wrong – you won’t. If he’s technically savvy he (or she, doesn’t matter) will sink you in the sea of gibberish technology talk, and if he’s not – he will sink you even deeper in semi-technology blabber. Point is – you will leave thinking that you have talked to a smart guy while in reality you have learned nothing.
What you should be asking – what’s the technology called, how widespread is it, how mature is it. These are the things you can understand, remember and cross-check after the conversation. What’s important – you will be able to make a business decision based on things you can comprehend.

2. How quickly can you provide a first draft of the site and how long does a job like this normally take? – author argues that such preliminary estimates can help you manage your schedule. Wrong – before signing the contract all dates are so grossly underestimated that you really have to live outside of the reality to base anything but future negotiations on those dates.
What you should be asking – how long projects like these take typically? What are the pitfalls, what could drag the project, how to prevent dragging from happening.

3. What is your working procedure and how will you communicate your progress? – if you are working with freelancers they most likely have no procedure in place and if you have with some established group they will tell you about project status reports even before you have to ask. The reason being that people who’s been around long enough know that if they fail to communicate properly they fail to get paid. So they will make damn sure their client knows all the hard work they put in, they will create a dashboard with tasks, timelines, heck, you might even see Gantt chart!
What you should be asking – what is the phone number of the person responsible for the project. One single person has to be responsible, if there is more than one – walk away.

4. How much support comes with this package deal? – obvious statement that no one works for free is obvious. Make sure you ask this question before negotiations begin, otherwise you can negotiate that sweet low price only to find out that support costs painfully extra. Unless you’re dealing with “Cheap web sites for r$499 per 5 pages” type of designers – there is no point in asking this question aside from the other negotiations.

5. What kind of after support do you offer? – same thing. Best thing to do is negotiate a support contract for some period immediately after launch so you will be covered in case something comes out immediately after your web project is live. In addition to that you might want to get a per-incident support after initial support contract is expired.
What to ask – nothing, keep negotiating.

6. What is your normal procedure if the job does not turn out satisfactorily? – author is then ventures on a journey of how everyone is spoiled by generous refund policies. Well, you just go and try to get a refund from anyone, I just want to watch how easy it would be. Speaking of service contracts, I may not live long enough to see the end of it anyway.
What you should be asking – nothing, just get a copy of the contract BEFORE you sign in and show it to your lawyer. It just another one of those things you want to negotiate as hard as you can. We have actually dropped a number of contracts because we could not successfully negotiate this single point. Everything else was set, but because client wanted a full refund or had some other crazy idea about how he gets all of his money back at the end when he tells us he doesn’t like it – it was dropped. It’s cheaper than a lawsuit anyway.

7. What software or technology will you be using to build my site and will I be able to use and update it myself? – the tragic story of a person who was asking for white noise in question #1 and ended up with useless application without anyone around to support it. That’s the illustration right there why pretty much everything that post is telling you is wrong.
What you should be asking – see question number 1: how widespread this technology, how mature is it. Is is Open Source or is it proprietary (former is better than the latter, unless you’re talking about Flash which is a whole another can of worms altogether).

8. Does it cost extra for this software or does anything you recommend to build this site going to require additional license purchased? – this is the only sane question in the whole ten, however, the justification is flawed nonetheless. As with any contractor, he brings his own tools. If your project lead is a geek he will force you into buying the top-notch hardware and software so that he could play with new shiny toys that he otherwise could not afford. If your project lead is a sales agent she will sell you whatever she will make the most of. Either case – you loose.
What you should be asking – is for a detailed chart of costs, including anything and everything your project needs to be completed successfully. Let your future contractors know that you have such and such assets and if anything needs to be purchased – it has to be put on that chart. Time, licenses, hardware, image and sound rights and royalties – everything goes there. This way you can cross-check with other contractors and actual vendors to see who’s charging you and for what. It’s your money, don’t waste it.

9. We would like the domain name administrator to be in our representative’s name and email. Can you arrange that? Рunless you trust your contractor sleep in the bed with your husband (or wife) Рnever ever even mention this to them. Spend as much time as it requires, but BUY THE DOMAIN YOURSELF! Do not give access to your domain to anyone else, if there are any modifications Рlearn how to do them yourself or register a domain with registrar who has telephone support Рlike GoDaddy. You can rebuild the site in months, but rebuilding a reputable brand name, replacing domain that all your customers know can take years.
What should I ask – can you develop on test platform and them move the site to our domain? But any decent developer should do that anyway.

10. Can I see a portfolio of previous sites built. Or is there a demo of a site similar to what you will be building us? – this should be first question that you ask a contractor (designer, programmer or whatnot). Why is it #10 – I have no idea, I guess just to reiterate how much wrong is with initial post. In addition to portfolio (if there is any) you should briefly explain what you are trying to do and how does the designer see it solved. That should be the first thing – before you put anything else on the table.

annoyances internet

But This Is A Brand New Computer?!

While doing various demos with clients I can’t help but notice one scary trend. Client usually checks the demo page from his or hers computer, prepares a list of issues and then we meet to go over them. A lot of clients complain right off the start that their web site doesn’t look exactly like it should or behaves strangely. The reason, of course is not the fact that the web sites we designed aren’t compatible with their browsers, but their browsers being dramatically out of date.

There were so many times when this had happened, it actually became one of the internal internet memes. The phrase “but this is a brand new computer, we only bought it year and a half ago” isn’t that funny anymore. People are becoming increasingly overprotective of their computers, calling them their “friends” and “babies” – “my baby is sick, can you fix it”, “my dear friend have been acting strange lately, maybe he’d caught a virus or something”.

Worse yet, when you point to those issues you face further complaints that you are trying to avoid your responsibilities and you should make web site work with any browser on Earth. While in general it is true, the task is all but impossible – try stuffing that intro flash movie down the throat of Lynx and you will get the idea :). Or, more realistic scenario – the famous Internet Explorer 6.0, that some people still think is good enough browser. In fact, according to statistics on my most traffic-heavy clients’ web sites the IE 6 is 4th most popular browser, after IE 7, IE 8 and Firefox (all versions).

Unfortunately, quite a few things are simply impossible to achieve in this world. One of them is the browser compatibility. However, there’s a pretty good chance that if you make something look critical and urgent and very important overall – people would listen, look and take action.

So from now on if you venture to this web site using one of the older browsers (Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox are supported at the moment) you will see a bright yellow bar on the top of the page saying that your browser is old and needs to be updated with a link to a page where you can choose what to do as well as a link to page where I explain why it is important to keep the browser up to date. If you are using the latest and greatest but just anxious to to see what the page looks like – feel free to look here: