February 2004 Newsletter
Your Binder Works.
Why Doesn't Your Website?
I consistently hear complaints about websites, yet I hear few complaints about 3-ring binders. Why?
The marketing department developed most architectural binders. Probably, most binders evolved over many years with pages and products being added or deleted periodically. Every 10 years or so the binders probably had at least one major revision.
A binder contains all the information needed to incorporate the products into an architect's design. Frequently, the only color materials are a Sweets-type 4 to16 page brochure. The rest of the binder has black and white data sheets and design guides.
On the other hand, consultants or IT departments have developed websites. And they do not know the design process used by architects and specifiers. Often the web designer is more concerned with making a website technologically up-to-date, incorporating the latest web design tools, than focusing on the usability of the information. Therefore, the designer does not ensure that the architect can find the information needed to make design decisions.
I advocate simple web design focused on providing the design information necessary to make informed design and specification decisions. My perspective is closer to that of consultants working with website search engine optimization than a web designer.
I developed a sample website to demonstrate how to do a simple website that can be effectively used by architects and specifiers. It is intended to demonstrate a simple, effective website and not supposed to be a restrictive web proposal. FYI, this document was published by the Construction Sciences Research Foundation. [CSRF has been merged and the WebFormat document is now carried on the 4specs website]
The complete WebFormat™ document is in PDF format. Visit the sample pages used in the document to see the document in action:
- WebFormat™ Home Page - (Hard Knox demo pages) - shows what the manufacturer makes, how to access the product data, the email address, mailing address, and how to access the specifications and CAD details. The entire page loads in about 12 seconds on a standard AOL dialup connection.
- WebFormat™ Products Page - lets the user quickly know what additional information is available on the website and provides an easy navigation system. By using text, the page loads quickly.
- WebFormat™ Specifications Page - shows one way to access specifications. Note, I recommend that the specs be available in Office and RTF (Rich Text Format) so they can be accessed by all users.
Some specifics to include on your website follow:
- Classify your products by CSI Sections. Using CSI section numbers help architects and specifiers understand where the products are to be used. The change under the new MasterFormat 2004, will not happen for 2-3 years.
- W.R. Meadows has a complex product offering covering many CSI sections. I think they have done a great job of presenting their systems:
- Provide complete design data. Make sure all of the information in your architectural binder can be easily located on your website. Even though the navigation to the information on the website to the information may be different, make it logical.
- Put editable specs and CAD details on your website, if appropriate. Make sure you own the copyright on the specs. The laws changed, and the copyright must be clearly transferred or the writer still owns it.
- Provide easy to print PDF's of your documents for the architect's project file. Provide white backgrounds and smaller images so the printer does not use a whole ink or toner cartridge to print a few pages.
Here are specific things I think you should avoid. I will be discussing these in future articles:
- Splash page - this is the fluff page containing no data except "click here" to exit.
- Pages over 60,000 bytes, including images - most people recommend a 30k byte limit, but few web designers can achieve this. 4specs is typically 30-60k with images, but with zipping it is somewhat smaller and the pages render quickly
- Images to represent text - the search engines generally cannot read these. More about this next month.
- Database driven websites - can mean a significant drop in free search engine referrals.
An example of a simple and easy to use website follows. I believe this was developed inside the company and not done by a web consultant. This website looks very different than WebFormat, yet the simplicity shows the products well:
This website is simple, visual and easy to use.
If you have a question on these topics, let me know. We can talk about it.
Publisher - 4specs