The Markstar Group

Introduction

The Markstar Group is formed by a team of designers dedicated to offering its customers professional websites, web hosting, and domain registration. A quick visit to markstargroup.com revealed that the team had spend alot of time in perfecting the site.

Form

My attention was captured by the cartoonish, graffiti-like art in the header when I first entered the site. The graphic gave me an impression that they might be targeting at creating websites for musicians, graphic artists or creative people. I wasn’t sure if that was the author’s intention, but that was what I got from the headers and strong color contrast in the home page. Looking at the content of the site, I saw a well organized and meticulous designer behind the scene.

The colors used are soothing to the eyes and complement each other. My only concern is the interplay of greys in the site. There are situations when the background greys are quite close to the black text in the body; this does not provide enough contrast for the eyes to read the text easily. The author has also used adsense graphic intelligently to break the monotonous content.

The layout and spacing used in the site is very consistent. That implies that the creators are well-organized and meticulous – something desirable from web designers. However, as a web design company, I would expect more from them. I looked through all the pages, looking for evidence of strong design skills but couldn’t find any. Perhaps the author might consider changing the header graphic on every pages to add abit of variation to the user’s browsing experience. However, the current banner used (main_banner.jpg) is already 33 kb, so I would take that into consideration if I want to re-design the header.

The portfolio page is the most important section for a web design company. The company is probably new, so it is understandable that they do not have a strong portfolio to show. One good idea is to describe every project that they have done thoroughly. By making every project looked ‘big”, they convey a message to their potential customers that they are passionate and takes pride in their work.

Function

I would like to give a thumbs up to the navigation. No one would ever get lost in the website. This is probably because there are only main menus and no sub-menus. The author managed to keep the content simple and therefore, does not need to make the navigation deep. The only section that has deeper categories is the support section. Even when using a ready made knowledge-base script as a plugin, the author managed to customized the colors to fit into the overall look and feel of the entire website.

Markstargroup.com has also provided a positive demonstration of the use of adsense in the entire site. Commercial websites that want to use adsense must know how to place their ads correctly. The most common problem with most business sites is to prioritized ads over content. Unless your purpose is to want your visitors to click on the ads rather than to look at what you have to offer, ads can be damaging to the reputation of your company. The ads used in this website are not overwhelming and tactically placed – another plus point.

The team has left their company details in the “About Us” and “Contact Us” page which is quite unusual for many small or ad-hoc web design companies. Unless the company has a strong organization behind it, many people would prefer to keep it as a secret. Would you use the services or buy products from someone that does not provide a reliable way of contacting them? It is quite unlikely…

Markstargroup is offering hosting as well. Therefore, they have to be easily contactable if someone has problems with their website. I strongly suggest that they also leave their direct email and phone number but that would also depend on how ready they are in the business.

Conclusion

Markstargroup.com has done a good job in introducing themselves to the world as people who can design and host websites. The design and colors used in the website also suggests that the team is young and energetic. The website header and portfolio graphics gave me these few keywords:”teens, games, funky, rap, creative, art.” These keywords probably also imply their target audience.

As a new company, they show great potential in what they can do but it seems that they still need to work very hard in terms of credibility especially when the web design and hosting industry are highly competitive.

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An intranet is the cousin of the internet

An intranet is the first cousin to the internet and it yields a degree of credit to your business. I was fortunate to be working for a design agency in Edinburgh some years ago. The agency was being reviewed for a prestigious Scottish award and the MD wanted to win the award desperately. I was assigned the mission of designing and content managing the intranet.

Our first objective was to establish goals! In my case, my two most important goals for the intranet were:

1. Usability – It had to be something that could repeat over and over again without people getting tired of it.

2. Functionally – It must perform when the employees want to obtain and search for data.

Step 1: Research

The best start is to research. I asked around with questions about how the intranet would benefit them and what documents would be of use. Many staffs were kind enough to share with me their experiences about what they liked about the intranet and what they didn’t. I also researched other intranets and assessed what their strengths and weaknesses were. Finally, I came up with a set of features I want the intranet to have.

Step 2: Sitemap

This is a project the whole company will benefit from so a happy camp is vital. After gaining an understanding for the vision and necessities of the intranet, I sketched out a site map. I believed that a site map is vital to gaining an understanding of how the site is going to flow. It also ensures that I will have a clear path of what is required. To cover all my bases, I sat down with the MD, Operations Manager and the Web Developer to gain input and map out the sitemap. This ensured that my sitemap was watertight and that I had left nothing out.

Step 3: Getting Content

I started data mining early for the relevant content. It is very important to stick to the site map so you don’t get off track as building an intranet can be a long and tiring task. I had to ensure that all the information was up to date and relevant. Many emails were send to people in the company to get the the documents I needed. I also took down alot of notes and I believed effective time and assets management helped me alot that time.

Step 4: Designing

The aesthetics for the intranet is an extremely important element. In my circumstances, the design had to be with consistent with the company’s identity. Every day the MD, Creative Director and staff would be logging on to this – so I had to ensure that the design is non invasive, friendly and timeless. After a long brain storming process, I finally decided to import a concept into the design, ie to used pictures of staff outings and our favorite quotes in all the pages. As you can see from the screen shots, I tried to keep the navigation as simple as possible to improve the user friendliness of the system.

Step 5: Reflection

I kept reminding myself “To be educated and to educate”. That motivated me to develop compelling, user-friendly web page content and page layouts. Regular conversations and meetings prevented me from going down the wrong path. It also offered me inspiration and fresh ideas to re-design the webpages. One important process during this project was the 2 way communication between me and the web developer. The web developer had certain Dos and Donts for the intranet. He told me how he was going to code it and place it on our web server. That piece of information was important to my design.

Conclusion

I learnt alot when designing the intranet. The 5 steps described above are the basic elements I find vital to building a well excepted and functional intranet. PS – The company won the award.

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Popular Harry Potter Site

Introduction

Let go of the day to day troubles and step back to when you were a teenager. This site is for frantic Harry Potter fans and offers everything under the sun for viewers. The target market is clearly for kids and teenagers. After spending a while on the site, you will learn that its creators are also teenagers. This has both positives and negatives.

Form

After having a quick browse on the homepage, I was still none the wiser to what this website was truly about. I figured the ‘About Us’ link could provide a general overview of the sites core functions and some quick answers but instead, i came out of that one knowing nothing more about the site but a whole lot more about the site creators (They enjoy watching The Simpsons, listening to ‘random music’ and ‘eating cereal’………….).

This confirmed to me that the site was not run by commercial professionals. Perhaps if I were their target market, I would be none the wiser. Mugglenet.com offers a million and one functions such as reviews, links, competitions, newsletter, quotes, job openings…the list goes on. It’s a great factory for pumping out anything and everything for Harry Potter and all of his freinds.

The magic of Harry Potter in the movies really pulls you in… it would have been nice if the design of the site replicates that.

Function

The visual links are displayed on the left hand side and are consistent with the overall design. It is also easy to navigate around the site without getting lost. Though the graphics looks cool, the design is a little bit crowded and overloaded with content, banners and links. The colour scheme could also have been a little bit more friendly. The white bulky text against the stark black background is to much for my poor eyes. It seems that this is a reason for me to de-credited the site. There are a few little extra surprises such as being able to choose your own Harry Potter wall paper on the homepage.

When I visited the site, Harry Potter’s traffic seems to be standard with its most recent posts added 15 hours ago. However, the webmasters claim that they have 125,000 hits per day. The average time spent on the site is 14 minutes and the average visitor only view 2 pages.

Conclusion

If i consider myself as a teenagers who is a major Harry Potter fan, I would probably not notice the little faults above and may think mugglenet.com is a groovy and informative site. The design, aesthetics, advertising and content could be a little more constructive and less invasive. However, having said that, I have to admit that mugglenet.com certainly has loads of content, great links and fun for Harry Potter lovers with some extra special touches.

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ABC News: Too much information

Introduction

News websites seem to take great delight in bombarding the reader with lots of information and links on the first page, cheap and the ABC News website is no exception. The problem of information overload can be overcome by sectioning text appropriately and making text easier to read and less complicated.

Form and Function

From a design point of view, advice the ABC News website looks like many other news sites in that there is a lot of information which is sectioned into “Top Headlines”, “Hot Topics” etc. There is also the traditional top and left menu bar and some advertising thrown in for good measure. Where the ABC News website is different is evident on the first page where the length of the page is extraordinary and needs to be broken up. The prominent news box is a good idea, but the page numbers and < > underneath may confuse some readers who are not sure what these items are for. Also, please note that some information is cut off on the “Entertainment” and “Nightline” pages!

There are too many bolded and coloured images (eg, “video” and “photos”) in the block text which can confuse readers. These could be toned down by making them into grey normal text (not images) with an underline showing the link. This might also help to get the text sitting on the same baseline instead of the images not positioning correctly with the text.

The first page itself doesn’t look evenly balanced, as the top banner, logo, left menu and left column don’t match up widthwise. Lining these up would make the first page more eye-pleasing. There seems to be a few different fonts on the page (eg, the left column and middle blocks of text) and this problem could be eliminated by the use of a cascading style sheet to make all text on the website have the same font. Headlines and so on could have another style.

There is no need for another “Search” function below everything else in the right column on the first page, since there is already one up the top.

While the website is consistent in layout throughout, the different (and bright) colours used on different pages for the categories looked too contrasting and made the pages too different to each other. Having the same colours, font etc on every page would certainly help address reader confusion as the eye would skip over the same detail, in search of new text, therefore accessing the new information quicker.

I liked the way the word “advertisement” was presented and how the advertisements did not detract from the news. Well done on putting the ads in discreetly. Readers really hate those pop ups!

Navigation is straightforward and considering the amount of information contained, loading times were adequate.

Conclusion

Overall, the website structure was fine and there are only a few design problems to worry about. Getting the information overload less complicated-looking and easier to read and search through would help the reader immensely. Most news websites have to face this problem and only a few have actually mastered it – so best of luck!

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