Perspective, tips, and insight

Articles to help you improve your digital marketing

Technology Trend: Adobe Creative Cloud

For web designers and developers, using cloud-based software has become the norm. Our days are spent creating Google Docs, sifting through DropBox, screen-sharing for collaboration and Skyping on client calls. One of the design community’s longtime tools, Adobe Creative Suite, has ascended into the cloud with their new software, Adobe Creative Cloud. This is a trend among computer software companies, which allows them to reach their users in an entirely new way. Cloud-computing changes the way we interact with one another, collaborate, share documents, and communicate.

What's the tone of your website?

What sort of personality does your website have? No, this is not a trick question. Think about it. When you read your website are you "hearing" the voice of a professional wearing a suit? Maybe a woman leaning back in her chair wearing jeans? Maybe that guy down the hall that can always make you laugh? Or maybe you don't sense a consistent voice at all. Maybe you get one tone from the home page but a completely different tone from the interior pages. Hmmm... this question is sounding more valid by the second isn't it?

Before you start writing your website you should give some serious thought to the tone of your writing. That tone should be based on three key factors:

1. Your established brand: If you have a brand statement you probably have the tone well-defined already. Do not vary from that tone. Consistency is the key to brand marketing.

2. Your mission: Even if you don't have a brand statement or established identity, your organization has a purpose. Your tone should reflect that purpose. If you are a fitness company, your tone should be energetic and even motivating. If you are a funeral home, you should have a soothing, comforting tone. Yes, those are obvious examples but every company has a mission that can be supported by the right voice. 

3. Your audience: Market research is a great tool when establishing a voice for your organization. The more you know about your audience, the better able you are to communicate to them. To hit their hot buttons. To talk in a way that hits home with them. Don't have the time or budget for full-blown market research? Build Audience Personas and let them guide you. Learn more about Audience Personas.

Let's step back for just a second. What exactly is voice and tone in writing?  

I think Grammar Girl (one of my favorite resources for writing dilemmas) says it best:

Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work. Voice is what Simon Cowell is talking about when he tells "American Idol" contestants to make a song their own and not just do a note-for-note karaoke version. Many musicians have played "The Star-Spangled Banner," for instance, but there's a world of difference between the Boston Pops' performance and Jimi Hendrix's, even though the basic melody is the same.

In writing, the New York Times and the New York Post may cover the same story, but their headlines are likely to be quite different. For example, when Ike Turner died, the New York Times had a straightforward headline: "Ike Turner, Musician and Songwriter in Duo With Tina Turner, Dies at 76"; whereas the New York Post went for a bad pun: "Ike 'Beats' Tina to Death."

Let's continue with that example and examine a common website headline: About Us. Nearly every website has an About Us page and if any page communicates your organization's style - it's this one. 
  • A company with a no-nonsense, conservative tone might say:
    Learn more about us.

  • A company with a professional but casual tone might say:
    Check out the people behind the scene.

  • A company with a sarcastic, humorous tone might say:
    Pull these facts out next time you want to bore your friends and family.
Three titles for a page with the same type of information, but three very different voices. Each of those examples is equally valid because they are targeted to a different market.

How do you find your voice? 

You start with those three key factors I mentioned earlier. You might also need to do some brainstorming - anything from listing adjectives that describe your organization to reading your competitor's materials (so you can make sure you stand out). You should read things that appeal to your market to get a sense for the tone and voice that attracts them. There are lots of methods to finding a voice and what works for one group, may not work for another. Here's a good article with some exercises to help you find your voice in writing.

Now that we've got you thinking, we encourage you to step back and do some reading - of your own website. Need help finding that voice? Ready for a rewrite? Let us know, we'd be happy to help.

Spend time on content at the beginning for a stronger website at the end

When people are ready to update or create a website, they often want to jump straight to the design. Colors, logos, pictures, layout - those are the fun parts of website design. (We think so too!) Here at TBH Creative we recommend a different approach. One that pushes the design further back into the process but ultimately makes that design stronger. When we start a website design project we start with content - specifically Site Architecture and Wireframes.


Site Architecture is the map of your website. Literally.

Content planning. Information Architecture. Site Map. No matter what you call it - the site architecture is the backbone of a good website. At this stage you are not thinking about design or copy. Instead, you are carefully considering your goals for the website and what type of content you'll need to meet those goals. There is software out there to help you create a site map, but you don't need any technology for this stage. In fact, a lot of people like to use index cards or large flow charts for brainstorming.

Here are some great tips for site organization from Smashing Magazine:
  • Organize content according to user needs, not an organizational chart or company structure.
  • Give pages clear and succinct names.
  • Be sympathetic. Think of your typical users, your audience personas, and imagine them navigating the website. What would they be looking for?
  • Consider creating auxiliary way-finding pages. These pages would lie beyond the main navigation of your website and structure various pages according to specific user needs.
  • If you can’t succinctly explain why a page would be useful to someone, omit it.
  • Plan the architecture around the content. Don’t write content to fit the architecture.
  • Keep everyone on point with constant reminders of the true goals of the website.
  • Not everything has to be a page. Use your hierarchy of content as a guide. Some items might work better as an FAQ entry or as sidebar content. Make sure your architecture-planning method does not blind you to this.
Read the rest of this article on site architecture.

Now lay out the content in a wireframe.

A wireframe is not a design layout. A wireframe does however let you take all that carefully considered site architecture and put it into the basic framework of a website. It helps you start to consider the flow for your user. It helps you assign appropriate prominence to content. A well-designed wireframe will become the guide for the design and content phases to follow. And while it may seem counter intuitive, taking the time to create wireframes will save you time in the development process.

You and your design team might create wireframes with pen and paper:

More likely, you'll use software to come up with something that meets your needs:

Creating wireframes are a bit of an art and a bit of a scientific process. Each designer does them differently but the goal is to create a site that meets your objectives and provides a structure for your architecture. Read one web designer's process on The Fine Art of Wireframing for a more in-depth perspective on the design process.

Want to learn more about Wireframes? Check out this article: Ten Simple Ways to Make Wireframes More Useful.

Form validation: A quick win for website user experience

User on mobile device
When the simple task of completing an online form is difficult, users are likely to become frustrated; however, effective form validation will guide the user step-by-step when encountering errors and minimize their frustration. Form validation is the process of notifying a user of any errors when entering data to submit the form. This is a crucial part of the user experience when filling out a web form and allows a user to be immediately notified when a mistake is made.

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