I spent a few hours this weekend going over my website, Red Kite Creative, making some changes to improve readability and better show what I can do for clients. I haven’t really done this since the ‘new’ site went up about 15 months ago (not to the whole site, anyway)… it’s ironic that it’s hard to keep my own site up to date, as a web designer. Sigh.

So, I made some changes:

  • Cut back the text quite a bit on many pages, including the home page. I replaced blocks of text  with lists when possible, or put them into blockquotes to set them apart from regular paragraphs. Less wordy, more concise.
  • I removed the ugly little email newsletter sign up form from the top section of my site and moved it into the sidebar, above the fold. I redesigned it to be smaller, but with a big obvious ‘Sign Up’ button. Before it wasn’t so obvious, and I haven’t had a lot of registrations for my newsletter in the past.
  • I added information specifically about WordPress – WP is really becoming my platform of choice lately and I want to promote my skills. I added a block of content on the home page about it, and a brand new page just for WordPress.
  • Created a new services page; the old one was way too long.
  • Replaced the old services menu with a new one that always shows subpages.
  • Replaced the old ‘website makeovers’ page with a new redesign page – I’m using HighSlide to show before-and-after screenshots of redesigned sites.
  • Created a new page for custom portfolio and gallery design. I’m a landscape architect by education, and I work with a number of architects, designers, photographers and artists. I really love building imagery-focused sites and want to make this a more prominent part of my business. I showed a few example screenshots from some of my portfolio projects on this page, too.

I’m happier with the site now – it’s much cleaner-looking and there’s not as much reading required to get the point across. I hope prospective clients agree!

Today marks the fourth anniversary for my web design/development company Red Kite Creative. How’s it going? It’s busy. Really busy.

I tried advertising for a part-time person, but didn’t get a well-qualified respondent so I decided instead to start firming up my connections with some quality local colleagues for mutual subcontracting work. So far I have local pros in Javascript frameworks, Drupal, Joomla, WP and general PHP and I’m looking for more.

I do know how to do all those things – but I’d like to be better at Drupal, PHP and frameworks and when I don’t have the time to learn something, I like to have people I trust that can do that work for me. Everything I deliver to a client has to be top quality, so it’s important that my colleagues are as picky as I am.

I’d used phpslideshow for my website’s portfolio a few years ago, but lately it had gotten unwieldy. Because of the layout of my site, I could only fit in three columns of thumbnails, and I’ve launched quite a few projects recently. The thumbnails were way below the actual content of the page, so I decided it was time for something new.

I really like SimpleViewer after using it for a client’s site, and that’s the one I started working with first, but I needed more control over the captions.

One of my tweeple pointed out how nicely Javascript-based Highslide allows you to style captions by showing my his own nicely-done portfolio, so I decided to try it. I liked that Highslide is a thumbnail viewer and not primarily a slideshow – that’s just what I needed. I also really liked the very nice caption styling options.

I downloaded a copy and found it extremely easy to work with – in about 30 minutes I had the first few thumbnails set up and working. This is a very nice script. It took me several hours to dump all 36+ projects into the page, but I’m very happy with the results in my new portfolio.

Some of my thoughts as I went through the process of redesigning my business site over the last couple of days…

Red Kite site from 2007

My old design had been up for about 13 1/2 months. That was starting to seem like a very, very long time for a web designer’s site and that was irritating me that I couldn’t find time to do it, much less even start thinking about what I wanted to do. The one big thing that finally got me going was that I wasn’t showing off my work very well – I didn’t have a big bold graphic showcasing my most recent work. Wanting to make a change in that aspect of the site got me thinking.

The things that bothered me about the old site, primarily:

  • It was too narrow on the page – not an elastic layout
  • The red grid at top and bottom seemed cool when I first did it, but was looking very dated recently
  • I wanted something more bold and fresh-looking
  • I wanted to do more with graphics, show off a bit more skill and have more color and images generally

On the new site, I replaced the gradient grids with a more subtle texture and grey gradient. I replaced my old logo with the new sticker logo that I use on my documents, and removed the search feature, which saw very little use.

Red Kite site, Nov. 2008

I moved the client login link up where the old search box was, and added a button with a CSS sprite rollover. I changed the tagline from ‘beautiful sites, inside and out’ to ‘beautiful sites from the ground up’ to better suit my kite metaphor.

I replaced the code-heavy (yet 100% CSS) inverted tabs with a super-simple text menu. And, I added a big image showcasing the current/most recent work with a bit of text about my contribution to the project and a link to the rest of the portfolio.

viewworkI changed the link and button colors to a deep sky blue to contrast with the red and grey and also to again refer to the kite metaphor. For stand-alone links, I made a bullet with an arrow to attach to the left of the a tag.

And most importantly, I made a new, bold red area with large friendly text and this is where my H1 tag and introductory paragraph for each section/page now reside. This is the first thing that catches a visitor’s eye and the most important text on the page, both for visitors and for search engines.

Overall, I’m very happy with the new site. I think it’s much more open and readable and more up to date in appearance. It was well worth the 13 hours or so it took from start to finish.

Just launched the redesign of my business site, redkitecreative.com. I was very happy (and a little surprised!) to find only two errors in IE6 after launching; both taken care of with a change to the conditional comments.

I estimate it took about 12-13 hours total for the design work and switching over all the files to the new format. I still have a few things left to do, including a new WordPress template, but that can wait for a week or two.