Website Design on These Days on KPBS. February 26, 2003.

Tom Fudge I’m Tom Fudge and we’re talking about designing Web sites these days in San Diego. When a person wanted to go into business back in the old days they’d find a spot on Main Street and hang out a shingle. These days you need your shingle in cyberspace. Modern customers expect to find credible companies and organizations on the Web. Web sites serve the purpose of advertising, commerce, and provision of basic information like phone numbers and product lines. News organizations use them as another way of getting the news out. So what makes for a good Web site? And what are the latest trends in designing them? We’re going to be talking about Web sites today with Pam Dixon and Joe Crawford. Pam is an author journalist and researcher recognized for contributions in the area of technology, privacy, and new media. Pam thanks for coming in.

Pam Dixon It’s always a pleasure.

Tom Fudge And Joe Crawford is creator of WebSanDiego a mailing list for local web developers and those who work on the Internet. Joe has been a web developer since 1996 and has worked on all aspects of web design and programming. Joe thanks very much to you.

Joe Crawford It’s a pleasure to be here.

Tom Fudge And to our listeners give us a call if you’d like to talk about Web sites you like and those you don’t like or if you have any questions for our guests. Our number is 888-895-5727 888-895-KPBS. Our email address is And by the way if you’re near a computer you may want to turn it on. We’re going to be talking about a number of sites today and it might be fun for you to take a look at them as we discuss them. Well having said all that Pam back in the early days of the Internet who were the people who were designing Web sites and how good a job were they doing?

Pam Dixon You know there were there was a really stratified layer of people back in the late ’80s when when I first got on kind of the mid to late 80s you had a lot of I call really true geeks you know people you know with long braids and you know the gray hair and the Birkenstocks those were the people doing the websites also the fine artists who were were getting involved with that sort of thing too. But the thing is is that it wasn’t the web yet the web was being created. So when the web finally went mainstream in about ’93 / ’94 and you know you got CompuServe and AOL and you know pretty much you know Joe and Jane consumer on there. Then you started getting the high school students and then you got this super fine artists. It’s I think it’s it’s really moderated to some degree but that was then this is now.

Tom Fudge And as you know the Internet has matured would you say that web sites have gotten more sophisticated or I mean is there just a wider range of stuff out there?

Pam Dixon I think Web sites have gotten tremendously sophisticated and a lot of ways. First off they’re more visually sophisticated when you go to a Web site you don’t expect to see bad design anymore and I don’t know if people kind of know think about that as they’re surfing but you know when you look at a site like Google for example it really it’s a beautiful simple design and if you remember back even five years ago search sites were just loaded with stuff you know distracting you know visual icons and stuff but that’s gone. And when you think about Google it’s a simple site but the backend, the actual search function of the site is extremely sophisticated. So sites have gone way past you know just you know a cottage industry. You know let’s slap a site up there and that’s not really the way it’s being done anymore.

Tom Fudge Well Joe how would you like to address that same question?

Joe Crawford I think that when we talk about design you know you don’t think about when you go into your lawyer’s office about the design of their space but it says a lot about their credibility how things are arranged and how you’re presented to them. And I think that that credibility really is developed out of that aspect of design. But more importantly is your lawyer a good lawyer? And I think does your Web site do what you intend it to do? I think of a site like UPS.COM where you really there’s only basically one thing you want to do. You either want to ship something or you want to track a piece of merchandise and that site allows you to do that and that is an aspect of of design. And you think well that’s that’s very well designed and it’s put together well and you think well is that the visual aspect of it. No it’s really the usability and the functionality that that people are responding to. I think when – give me what what I want when I want it. And Google is no different. It gives you excellent search results and the design is really an undesign, an afterthought, I think.

Tom Fudge One sort of interesting article that I read doing research for this show seemed to indicate that studies show that web design is in fact very important in terms of establishing credibility with users. I mean if a user goes to a site it’s not the information on the site it’s the design of the site it’s the look of the site. Is that true in your experience too Joe?

Joe Crawford I think that that’s definitely been my experience. Again, Pam referred to the early days of the web, you know, big gray backgrounds and animated gifs all over the place things dancing around the page because people had a sense that, well this is an advertising medium, this is like television. And I think today people really are just — give me what I want. Give me the thing that I need when I want it when I go to CNN, I expect to see the current headlines. I don’t expect to see the hierarchal structure of CNN’s board of directors. I want to see the news and I want to see it right now.

Tom Fudge What do you think creates credibility in a Web site Pam?

Pam Dixon I think you mentioned studies on Web sites. There’s some intensive studies. I mean I saw a study about a year ago on what colors you use for psychological impact on Web sites. And you know don’t use blue use warm colors don’t link in purple you look like a flake. I mean it’s amazing. So it’s really gotten to be a science and I think there is some research folks who have probably made some money off of that. But but in terms of credibility I think the one thing that I have really seen become increasingly so is that you’ve got to have a really unified statement about who you are as a person or as a business. If you go to someone’s website and you see trees on their Web site their business card and better have that tree on it and if it doesn’t you know that’s kind of saying to me at least hey this person you know slapped their Web site up there and maybe didn’t give it a second thought and maybe it’s not updated and maybe it’s not something they care about. And I think in this world your Web site is simply a part of how you do business. It’s like your business card but it’s more than that and it’s gotta really reflect. It’s like any good marketing communications or ad person would say to a business–“look you’ve got your letterhead make your business cards match your letterhead make it match your marketing materials. And for heaven’s sakes your Web site needs to really reflect your company” and I think that’s a very very important part of credibility.

Tom Fudge Do you think it’s true that for more and more Americans these days I mean if you’re not on the Web you don’t exist.

Tom Fudge Absolutely. There’s just no question about that. I think that there’s a whole generation where if you’re not on the web it doesn’t exist.

Tom Fudge You agree with that Joe.

Joe Crawford I think that that’s definitely becoming the case. Whether you want to be on the web or not a Google for your name and you’ll likely find yourself. Maybe you took part in a 5k race and your name is part of the standings. Or or you have a child who’s in school and there’s a there’s a listing there. I think that most people are on the web whether they know it or not.

Pam Dixon “Ego surfing”– that’s the official name for searching for your own name.

Tom Fudge Ego surfing .

Tom Fudge You plug your name into Google and see what comes up.

Pam Dixon You know they log all that stuff it’s really embarrassing.

Tom Fudge Well anyway in terms of establishing credibility for a Web site Joe I guess one thing goes without saying is it’s difficult to establish credibility if the Web site doesn’t work work very well.

Joe Crawford I think that that’s absolutely the case. My own background is in programming engineering as well as in the arts and in graphic design. But in the programming and engineering aspects are vitally important if people visit the Web site and things are exploding all over the place and you see a mysterious scripting error or Microsoft has crashed or you know these are all things which do not help your credibility whatsoever. And and those kinds of things that can occur in terms of usability and in terms of just just good good engineering can definitely impact the website in a very bad way and people may not even be aware of it because people are used to a certain browser and a certain operating system and that’s windows and that’s Internet Explorer and it’s it’s a pity but often web developers don’t consider well what other browsers are out there or what old version of AOL are people using to visit the Web site and what experience are they having? Are they being driven away simply because something simple doesn’t work and because some attention has not been paid to the details of the back end?

Pam Dixon You know that’s an interesting point along with the credibility to you know sometimes when I go to sites I you know I research a lot of privacy issues and one of the things I’m always looking for is does this site have a terms of use? Does it have a privacy policy? Have there been complaints made to the Better Business Bureau Online about that site and how they’ve treated consumers especially if it’s some kind of site where you’re doing some kind of e-commerce. And I think that the actual site treats its customers is also part of the equation of credibility. I mean when you go to the site and you click the contact button does it go to an e-mail or do you get a phone number. And that’s important too because you know at some point I put my office number on website and everyone was like “Pam why are you doing that?” And I said because otherwise how is that credible if you have a Web site and you’ve got your information are you going to you know allow people to check you out and you have to. There’s got to be some kind of verification procedure consumers can use to make sure you’re valid and credible because anyone can put a Web site up.

Tom Fudge That’s interesting because there are so many Web sites that I often go to to get telephone numbers for the organization and they’re not there.

Pam Dixon So that’s not good. They should have those up.

Tom Fudge You’re listening to these days. Let me remind listeners that my guests are Pam Dixon and Jo Crawford. Pam Dixon is an author journalist and researcher who specializes in areas of new technology. Joe Crawford is creator of web San Diego a mailing list for local web developers and he’s been in the business of web developing since 1996. We’re talking about Web sites. What makes a good one. What makes a bad one. If you want to give us a call and talk about your favorite Web site and tell us why you like it so much or if you want to put a question to our guests. Call us at 8 8 8 8 9 5 5 7 2 7. We also invite pet peeves about web web sites if you want to talk about those 8 8 8 8 9 5 k PBS. Let’s go to Laurie in Claremont. Laurie go ahead.

Laurie in Clairemont Hi good morning. Good morning. Her very good program I think many employers are looking for people with good web design skill. And I actually teach a class on the internet about that and one of the questions I have here. The Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. How do we make our Web site user friendly for people with various disabilities. And I. Just wanted to ask your guests if they could address that because it seems like a good job skill to have as sites have to be redesigned to meet requirements that take my answer off the air.

Tom Fudge Yeah that’s a really good question it hadn’t occurred to me that the ADA might affect Web sites but Joe do.

Joe Crawford That’s absolutely a concern. And there have been a know it was the Olympics in Australia had a number of lawsuits in Australia with regards to that in our own country we have what’s called Section 508 which deals with electronic media and accessibility of of exactly what we were talking about. The Web site is really a public affordance — it’s something for people to use to get in touch and to use your and your organization and section 508 is absolutely necessary. I actually took part in the development of a website called 5 0 8 help dot o r g with previous employer and that was it was very rewarding to take part in and that provides the kind of details that I think the caller students would would find useful and would have good links off to the US government sites that have more information about Section 5 0 8.

Tom Fudge Well what’s what’s an example of an accommodation that would be made to somebody who’s disabled on a Web site. Pam can you tell us?

Pam Dixon It’s really simple. Basically when you have a lot of Java applets and you know animation and whatnot a person for example who cannot see the screen is going to be using something called a screen reader and the screen reader just literally passes across the screen and reads the text that is there. And if you have an image your image should have a little name on it. If it doesn’t it will just say image. But if you have like if you put a caption in your image going back to my example let’s say you have a picture of a desk on your site in your image this particular teacher could instructor students to always put a caption and say this is a desk and when it says that the person who’s using the screen reader will then know what’s a desk and that’s just one small example.

Tom Fudge So with the software that they supposedly have you can click on that and it reads the screen and it will say this is a desk.

Pam Dixon That’s right. Otherwise it’ll say you know image and you know it’s very useful for absolutely everyone to download a screen reader. They’re not very expensive they’re less than a hundred dollars and haven’t read your site. It’s just shocking.

Joe Crawford It is a very interesting field. And when we talk about users with disabilities we’re talking not just about visual impairments we’re talking also about people who maybe are deaf or have different hearing capabilities may we’re on the radio. So there’s a there’s an obvious difference there but what people are familiar with the idea of television and closed captioning and it’s really no different than that. And again think about real world analogs we’re talking about. Curb cuts and ramps for buildings. It’s really a means to allow people to get at your content. Maybe they’re not going to have precisely the same experience because they’re sensorium is going to be different than a typical human being but they’re going to get an experience that’s going to be similar. I forget the exact language in Section 508 but you should be able to get the content and have a meaningful experience.

Tom Fudge Okay with that. We have to take a break. We’re talking about Web sites during this hour of these days stay with us we’ll be back in just a moment and we’ll get to your calls at 8 8 8 8 9 5. PBS.

Tom Fudge These days on PBS during this hour we’re talking about Web sites which are the ones we like which are the ones we dislike which are the ones which are really successful in serving a business or serving the people who use it. My guests are Pam Dixon and Joe Crawford. Pam is an author journalist and researcher who is a specialist in the area of new technology and new media. Joe Crawford is the creator of Web San Diego a mailing list for local web developers and others who work on the Internet. Joe has been a web developer since 1996. If you want to give us a call our number is 8 8 8 8 9 5 5 7 2 7. Our lines may be full up at the moment but tri’s later in the show if they are our number is 8 8 8 8 9 5. Ok PBS and let’s take a call from Usef in Encinitas. Go ahead.

Usef in Encinitas Hi. A question about what Joe and Pam think about the overall security of websites especially nowadays with all this hacking stuff going on. I think that’s a pretty big important thing that might put off a lot of ecommerce…

Tom Fudge OK Yusuf you’re kind of breaking up there we’ll have to let you go. But the question is about security of Web sites.

Pam Dixon Pam Oh boy that’s like a Pandora’s box. Look the security of Web sites is just such a huge issue. I was I was just talking to someone yesterday about a very large case that was brought against Ziff Davis last August by the New York attorney general’s office. And basically they sued Davis Ziff Davis for not having good security on their website. They they exposed everyone’s email addresses and credit card numbers. And you know this is dangerous. These guys are you know like computer publishers. And look if they can do it anyone can do it. And security is if they can blow it. But if they can have that problem you just you can just imagine that there’s a lot of problems out there that you look I can’t lie. The security issues on websites particularly those Web sites that compile consumer information like resume databases. Let me tell you there’s some real serious problems out there.

Tom Fudge You know Joe I’m still sort of at a point where I am reluctant to you know put my credit card number give my credit card number to any Internet site. I mean what’s your response to that question.

Joe Crawford I think that this is a thing that prevents a lot of people from using the Internet to the fullest extent that they can. I have several family members who simply say Oh that that internet you just can’t put that number out there. What am I doing putting that credit card number in there. And it is difficult to to have that level of trust. Should I be putting this in. And there are features in newer browsers that include security certificates and you’ve got to make sure that when you buy something online you see that little lock on that little special key in the bottom corner of your browser to assure that what you’re when you’re when you’re sending information that sensitive sensitive to you particularly credit card numbers but other information as well that it’s being sent over an encrypted channel. Now in the case of something like Ziff Davis or or other retailers or or entities which have poor security I think that that’s really a failing of my business. That’s a failing of of developers to adequately secure what needs to be secured. I don’t know that we’re going to see government regulation in this area but I know that that people are crying in the business to say no don’t please don’t regulate us but if we continue to see the kind of security problems that we will see today I think that that that kind of regulation will come and I think that that should light a fire under the under the folks who do these kinds of things for a living.

Tom Fudge Let’s go to Karen in Jamul. Go ahead Karen.

Karen in Jamul Thanks for taking my call. This is a really great subject. I’ve been browsing the internet about 1995 and back then my chosen browser was Netscape and I kept up with the different versions. But last fall I discovered Opera and it’s a new browser that guess out of think Norway and it has all kinds of really great features. It’s just really neat I mean I had it for about four days and send in the money to register it. So I didn’t have to look under a little banner ad.

Tom Fudge OK well Opera Pam you use it.

Pam Dixon I do opera. I’m so glad this caller called in. I love opera too. It’s my favorite browser and I’ve got the funniest story for you. There’s a there’s a very accomplished technical expert and his name is Erevia and he has he’s over in Europe in Belgium and he has a website called Search lores dot com. And if you go to that website and you’re not using Opera you can’t get in the website actually checks for your use of opera and when you go to that website and you get in using Opera it basically says look if you’re not using Opera you’re not using a real web browser. Basically opera is a very very fast Web browser and there’s a lot of controls on how you get the information. And it’s just it’s terrific.

Joe Crawford It is. It is a great browser. I think that one of the things that I was talking about earlier was that people will come at you with a browser that you don’t expect. I used to like to think of it as whatever browser you’re testing for. That’s exactly the browser that the CEO of the company that is developing the Web site for will be using. Absolutely I mean I remember a CEO using Netscape 2 when Netscape 3 was in vogue and I was I was developing the site with all this Javascript. And that was a very valuable lesson to me because the site basically just exploded for the CEO. And that’s you know you just can’t have that happen and I think that that we’re going to continue to see new browsers come out on the Macintosh there’s a new browser called Safari which is excellent and it also has some of the attributes that Opera does which is it’s very very fast and very good very useful. Are developers testing for it? Not necessarily. Should they. Yes they should probably.

Pam Dixon Yeah they should probably start with Safari.

Tom Fudge How big an issue is this business of compatibility between Web sites and certain browsers. You know for instance I’ve been using Netscape for years and I might be a little bit concerned about moving to something else not that not that I’m sure that Netscape is is the best. But you know if I go to opera my going to be able to get all the sites that I get.

Pam Dixon You’ll do better than you are right now. Netscape Netscape has a lot of compound incompatibility issues. You know I’ll tell you I think the incompatibilities issue is fairly huge. I put something on my own Web site and centered it and it looked great in every browser. But Netscape and I had to go back and totally redo it because it was so blown Netscape and you know I just checked Netscape just because that’s what I do. Before I put anything up and if I hadn’t checked it it would have absolutely looked horrible. And you know that makes you look bad. You’ve got to check all the browsers.

Joe Crawford Absolutely. I think that one of the things that has changed in web design is that designers and developers are much more cognizant of web standards. I was actually part of a movement that got kind of sick of this. This aspect of web browsers where well it works in IE and it doesn’t work in Netscape. Oh yeah. Why. Why are there all these differences between how they’re how the browsers work and it was at the point where for a commercial site you were basically developing the website two times a group of us got fed up with that and formed Web Standards Project back in 1999 an effort basically to pressure browser makers to make their browsers better and to conform to what are called the W3C standards for HTML CSS and ECMAScript which hopefully will provide if people design and develop to these standards. You’re going to have better compatibility. This is the idea and the ideal.

Tom Fudge Going to get back to our callers in just a moment. But Joe I did want to ask you this question. There was a time when I have to think that Web site design was very much influenced by the speed the prevailing speed of Internet connections. You know I mean there’s no point in having a lot of groovy moving pictures on your on your Web site. If it takes forever to download them where we are today in terms of connection speed and what you can put on a Web site?

Joe Crawford I think that one of the things that occurs in San Diego is that we’re all very spoiled. Broadband is very ubiquitous. We’ve got at least three providers of cable modem access as well as lots of DSL providers. But I think that that developers really need to be cognizant of fact that not everyone is going to have that level of sophistication and that level of speed out there across the land. And remember what we’re talking about is a global audience when we talk about a Web audience and so it’s very important for a developer to know their audience very well who’s going to be visiting the site who has an interest in the site and to be sensitive when developing the Web site too. Well if I put this movie up on the site are they going be able to see it. Is it going to take too long for them to download or not or have it be an option. And those kinds of sensitivities to audience which is which is really what occurs in any media is what should happen in web development.

Pam Dixon There was a real funny moment back in 1999 where I called it the broadband moment where you know there were broadband only sites where you’d go to like Cox@Home and it would just be evil unless you were on broadband. And now something that’s emerging that’s very interesting is this whole wireless issue many many people are approaching the web on some kind of wireless device or modem I know that access the web on my Palm 7. And believe me I want the text I just just give me the information skip the graphics and do you know I think that’s a growing trend as well.

Tom Fudge You’re listening to these days I’m talking with Pam Dixon who’s an author and journalist a specialist in new technology and Joe Crawford creator of web San Diego. Our number is 8 8 8 8 9 5 K. PBS talking about Web sites. Let’s get back to our callers starting with Michelle in Pacific Beach. Go ahead Michelle.

Michelle in Pacific Beach Hi guys. Great show. Great show. I couldn’t agree with you more in terms of your comments. I have a very brief comment and then a question for your guest. I work for a company called PINT and my boss is a teacher at UCSD. Thomas Powell he’s actually written seven textbooks on web development and standards and I’m wondering if you guys are finding that part of the problem here is that the people that buy websites. The CEO is as you refer to Joe often do not understand the products that they’re buying.

Joe Crawford Well I think that that’s probably definitely a common thing that occurs. People think they’re buying a piece of collateral they think they’re buying a brochure and what they’re really buying is a piece of credibility. And also often if you’re going to do something on the web it’s going to be a piece of functionality. I know that PINT does a lot of work with intranets if I find that directly and lots of development in that area and that’s an example where what’s really occurring is backend business work and and and it’s absolutely important that that work 100 percent as far as the misconceptions about what a web site is. I think it’s a matter of for web developers to educate.

Tom Fudge All right thanks very much for calling. Let’s go to Beera also in Pacific Beach. Go ahead Beera–

Beera in Pacific Beach Hi. Hello. Hello. Go ahead. Yeah I’m with you guys like five days a week. Great show. I have just one little question and one quick comment. My question is about usability. Like you guys talk a little bit more about usability cause I totally agree what you guys talk so far. You know I just take the answer out of there out of your comment that I have to make it about this Web website. I think it’s great it’s Becoming Human Dot ORG it’s from Arizona University and they have a really great study about the first apes who stand up and our ancestors.

Tom Fudge I’m sorry it’s called becoming human

Beera in Pacific Beach becoming Actually they have a lot of flash and director animators and the cool thing is that it’s really it’s really good. Hey it’s not really like moving on your face but they know how to use those features and they use ability which was my first question I would take the answer out of the air. Thanks a lot.

Tom Fudge OK. Thanks very much.

Joe Crawford I guess the questioner is is asking him a little bit about usability and about functionality on websites. And I think that a good place. I guess the questioner is asking what a good site for that would be. And I think probably Jakob Nielsen’s site would be an excellent site to look at. and lots of excellent thinking on usability as well as links out to other sites on that U.S.E.I.T. dotcom.

Joe Crawford That’s right. And as far as the site that the caller mentioned multimedia as an educational tool can be really wonderful and that’s something that we’ve had you know since I was in grade school you know it’s it’s there’s a 20 year history of using multimedia to educate and to inform where people can really interact and go at their own pace in learning something in the sciences, say.

Pam Dixon I think there’s an interesting issue too that the caller brought up and that’s you know when the web first came out it really wasn’t the web it was the Internet and we were looking at text only on black or green backgrounds. And at that point there were a lot of scientific studies. There was a lot of data and really hardcore information online and then we went into this phase in the 90s where it was a lot of visuals and not as much free information. Now we’re coming back and he mentioned the becoming And you know that’s a beautiful site and it is beautifully done. It’s a lot of information and I think the beautiful thing is we’re coming back more to not just a commercial Web but also some science some more altruism out there as opposed to we’re not just in this you know Web thing to make a buck. I think we all realize that no one is going to exactly make a buck just from being on the web.

Tom Fudge Pam, graphically do the same rules apply to a Web site that would apply to say the contents page of a magazine. And just in terms of making it look good. What do you think.

Pam Dixon I think that there are a whole new set of rules and I think you see a lot of sites right now that are trying to apply the old rules to the new medium and it’s not exactly working…

Tom Fudge well I’m thinking about rules like you know providing just some white space in there so there’s not too much text.

Tom Fudge I mean a lot of this stuff does does apply it seems to me that

Pam Dixon …doing basic good online I don’t think ever goes away if that’s what you’re talking about yeah. White whitespace is great. I think that some people would disagree with me and they like to see every little inch fill. But yeah I think that the basic you know give it space make it clean make it modern looking. I think that’s I think that’s very appropriate.

Joe Crawford Yeah I think that the principles of graphic design that have occurred over the past you know since basically since the invention of movable type still apply. And we it’s it’s about allowing the eye to focus on areas of of a page and this page in this in this case it’s a virtual page it’s a page that can scroll as as long as probably as infinity theoretically. But the idea is that you guide the user’s eye in a way that’s going to be meaningful. What do you want them to look at first what impression do you want them to feel and you do that by using form and by using color and by using space and negative space.

Pam Dixon But let some things do change on the web. When you see a hyperlink it is distracting and you’ve got to figure out how you want to deal with that distraction or even if you want to give the reader or the page user that distraction.

Tom Fudge Let’s take one more call before we have to take another break. Bob is in Chula Vista. Go ahead Bob.

Bob in Chula Vista Hi. I’m here designing a Web site for clients. All right the radio. I was wondering after hearing. My biggest problem I find out is that these are mostly small companies. They have their own design ideas usually run contrary to common or common held beliefs. And I spend a lot of time trying to tell them you don’t need flashing graphics or complex background or.

Tom Fudge Stupid clients.

Joe Crawford We love them and we hate them.

Bob in Chula Vista And that’s what happened with me. I mean it’s you know you bring up you every good ways of talking to people and you maybe giving them some argue.

Joe Crawford I think that in my own experience it really is a matter of communicating in a manner that’s gentle and informing but also firm. If you’re talking about the color you’re missing the point of the website probably if it’s a matter of different shades of green maybe you’re not really focusing on what’s important. You really have to get your client focused on well what are your intentions for the website. What would you like to communicate what would you like the user the visitor to your Web site who really are welcoming them into a space that’s yours. What impression do you want to leave them with. Do you want to leave them with the impression that your you know that you’re a part of some X Games phenomenon where things are whizzing around the screen or. Or would you like him to have an excellent classy impression of you.

Tom Fudge Well we have with that we have to take another break. You’re listening to these days on PBS. We’ll be back with Joe Crawford and Pam Dixon talking about Web sites in just a moment. Our call in number is 8 8 8 8 9 5 K. PBS.

Tom Fudge I’m Tom fudge here listening to these days and we’re talking about designing Web sites this hour. My guests are Joe Crawford and Pam Dixon. Joe is creator of Web San Diego a mailing list for local web developers and others who work on the Internet. He’s been a web developer himself since about 1996. And Pam Dixon is an author journalist and researcher who is recognized for her specialty in new technology and new media. 8 8 8 8 9 5 PBS is the number to call if you’d like our email address. By the way is these days @ PBS. Dot org. Spencer is calling from Encinitas. Go ahead Spencer.

Spencer from Encinitas Hi guys. Hey hey. All this talk about color and stuff. What software do you guys use for for like color wheel to figure out exactly what colors to use.

Joe Crawford Well the thing I think first is probably a tool called Visibone VISIBONE and they make color charts and mousepads as well as electronic versions that will fit into photoshop or illustrator that will allow you to kind of to see what what colors you can use on the web as well as they have a tool online to allow you to do kind of dynamic selections of see what color combinations look like.

Pam Dixon I use actually a combination of methods because I don’t actually use that. I think for me I like to use a combination of Dreamweaver and I also like to use Illustrator which is of course an Adobe product and then I like to do a preview and see how those colors are looking in most of the various paint in visual creation programs now they allow you to actually choose a web palette and if you can choose the web palette and then take a look at how that looks it makes a big difference. But you know sometimes it’s good to not just stick to that to experiment beyond the bounds and see where it goes and you can especially do this with photographs and if you use something like a Corel photo paint or you know various photo paint programs you can really get some unique colors that actually look really good on the web even though they’re not web colors.

Tom Fudge Pam there are all sorts of people out there do it yourselfers who are creating their own personal Web sites you know your family might have a site to put pictures of the kids up there. So grandma you don’t do that. Two thousand miles away you can look at the pictures. I mean how easy is it and how expensive is it for just anybody to create their own Web site and maintain it.

Pam Dixon I really do believe that if someone wants to create their own website the easiest place to do that right now is at Blogger which is a Web site where you can just create your own online journal and I think that’s really effective for the home user because you go there you slap it up and you’re done. And I think also some of the free sites that your Internet service provider allows you to have is really easy they just let you format it and they usually have these little forums where you add this and that and then they pop it up for you. And that’s really the easiest way but some of these programs I don’t personally use FrontPage but FrontPage I know that is very effective for people Dreamweaver I think is a great program it’s probably a little more intensive than some people might want. And then for the geeks you can always code it yourself. HTML is not actually that hard

Tom Fudge Joe did you want to chime in.

Joe Crawford I think that the I think that it’s wonderful the democratization of web design and that really anyone can learn to do these things. This is not some some black art where “Oh I’m never going to learn how to do this it’s too hard.” There are lots of tools out there available to people. I think of tools like GoLive and more small scale tools like Macromedia’s new Contribute product and product called City Desk which allow people to put things up and to really kind of maintaining control them themselves. And I think that I mean the way I started was I had an account with EarthLink at you know years ago and they gave me this free Web space and what was I going to do with it. I had no idea but they had resources for me to look for and look at. And I managed to teach myself again the thing about the Web that’s great. Is that everything that you can do on the Web you can probably learn on the web. It’s sort of self-evident.

Pam Dixon For people who don’t want to put the time in to learn to Joe’s level you you really can just there there’s some very simple forums that you can go to like Geocities and these various other real super consumer friendly places and just you know get something up in a couple hours.

Tom Fudge And generally I’m assuming your service provider if you want to put up a Web site is going to charge you a certain amount of money…

Pam Dixon Or even sometimes it’s free and that can be part of how you choose a service provider.

Tom Fudge Let’s go to Justin who’s on the 8. Go ahead Justin.

Justin on the 8 Yeah I actually have two questions. The first one is you used to work originally laid off a programmer and oddly enough I had a chance to sort of see this out of control corporate spending on the I.T. stuff because my girlfriend works for a large consulting firm in the financial department and they were working on it. The e-mail system for accounting and that is running into the millions of dollars for you know 15000 users. (Wow.) And I was working on an e-mail system for our 45000 customers that needed e-mail and we had a web product and part of that was an e-mail deal. And I had to do the budgeting, the planning and the whole deal and the hardware side of things was about 70 grand and we got it out in a few months and we transitioned people from critical path to the in-house deal. And I think the whole budget including H.R. time and that sort of thing was you know 150 grand or something like that.

Tom Fudge So your point your point is that a lot of people get ripped off in this area.

Justin on the 8 Well it seems like certain entities court large corporations or counties governments and that sort of thing won’t look at something unless it costs you know X million dollars. I think it can’t be done. This is like a really growing concern I have. I mean this is our county and they’re spending all this money and it’s our money right. I’m a Democrat so I approve of that.

Tom Fudge But you’re all in favor of spending too much tax money.

Justin on the 8 But I mean the point is that seems just ludicrous to me.

Tom Fudge OK thanks Justin. Pam What can we say to that.

Pam Dixon You know what this kind of overspending is so much less frequently seen now than it was in the past couple of years. I really do think this sort of thing is going away. I think people are starting to realize that they don’t need to spend five million dollars to create a website. But I’ll tell you where. You know I think there’s a little bit of a you know hangover from the late 90s that are callers talking about here. I’m not really seeing that same thing I’m seeing more that the people I know who are web developers are having to you know fight for their rates. And I think that there was some inflation and especially in New York City where you know if you are a web designer man you were you’re livin’ high you know you’re living large. But I think that inflation has really come down and I’m just not seeing that trend.

Joe Crawford I think that what I’ve seen you know I speak with web developers basically every day and I think that that with the overspending aspect of the web is definitely something that’s diminishing. It’s not that it that it can’t happen I think that you look at at any any examples of corporate abuse and over overspending and you know where is that money going. And even talking about you know government entities you know are they are they putting their dollars into things that are really going to return on investment. This ROI that we hear so much about. You know are you going to get bang for your buck. And I think that that’s the question that taxpayers need to ask of their government. You know what are you what are you spending our money on. And is there a better way to do it. Is there enough oversight from the community.

Pam Dixon There’s an interesting aspect to what the caller was talking about though and that is this. You know if you want a really bad Web site just you know try to do it yourself. If you’re a corporation you know what a web site is going to cost money to develop correctly because you might get a pretty design for less money but you’ve got to think about the backend. Is there a database tied in. What kind of data collection do you need it to do. What I mean are you an airline. I mean you just can’t just slap something up and not expect to pay money any more. I mean I remember at a time when you know you’d see web designers advertising for 50 dollars for a Web site. Those days are gone.

Joe Crawford Those days are really not gone but it’s it’s much harder to make those sales.

Tom Fudge Speaking of all this let’s go to Stephen in Solana Beach. Stephen go ahead.

Stephen in Solana Beach” Yes well it’s a rather well possibly simple or complex question depending but my question would be how do you price out a Web site. I mean you can start from 50 dollars and go to a million dollars. But actually how do how do you do that because it’s the design side there is the actual you know creating the pages the links and the imagery. How do you price these things out of the curious can have a different arenas where you price.

Joe Crawford Well this is one of the one of the tricky things and part of the business of building and it’s like any engineering or architectural task is you end up building the plans for the Web site. What does the Web site need to do and and what is the timeline for developing the Web site and how much time is it going to take to actually build these plans that you’ve developed. Design is typically a smaller chunk of a day of a dynamic web site say a site that has a lot of database interactivity and most of the budget is going to be in that the engineering side of things. If you’ve got a very small website and you only need to communicate a very few things maybe most of your budget is going to be in design and actually just building those those initial pages.

Tom Fudge Now Joe does the designer and the engineer of a Web site tend to be different people are the same person.

Joe Crawford It completely depends. But typically what I’ve seen is that a designer really handles that kind of frontend and the look and feel and the interaction and then it’ll be engineers who are handling the programming and more of the in-depth coding so it’s rare to see Jack of all trades. I happened to be kind of a jack of all trades I can do both of those aspects but it’s more common to see a division of labor.

Pam Dixon Know that’s true. And I would recommend for the caller for Stephen to to really think about this. When you go to a website and you like it take a look at who designed it because the designer will usually have some kind of link on the page and go to that link. Check out the designer and make phone calls that you look for a good web designer the same way you look for a good financial adviser. You talk to everyone you know ask them who they used how much it cost and how they liked working with them because you couldn’t. Working with a web designer or web design team there’s got to be a good chemistry there and if there is not you can end up with a bad product.

Tom Fudge We got an email from Rachel who says she keeps running into websites that are impossible to read because of the print and the backgrounds. You need to consider more of us who are wearing bifocals. I don’t care how groovy a site is if I can’t read it and you do still come across those sites that are like blue print on a black background. I don’t know why people do that.

Joe Crawford And it’s interesting that that’s an aspect of what we talked about earlier. Accessibility is adequate contrast in the pages for reading. You know if someone gave you a book that was blue on black print that would be extremely difficult to read. Maybe that would be the early days of Wired magazine. You know super fancy very very difficult to read but if you want people to read your text you should provide adequate contrast an adequate text size.

Tom Fudge Let’s go to art who’s on the 8 Freeway. Go ahead Art. You’re on the show.

Art on the 8 Hi. My question is about content versus design and what I noticed as I go on some sites. I bought a consumer product and I go on their site and there’s no online manual. And I find it sort of makes us irrelevant or not very useful. That’s right. Other products like I bought natural Turkey went on the Web site great. They’ve got wines to pair with how to cook it all those sort of things. So I guess it’s more of a comment is that retailers need to put essential information versus just bells and whistles.

Pam Dixon Well that was thoughtful the turkey the turkey folk whoever did that.

Joe Crawford They were thoughtful and that’s an aspect of knowing what your audience is going to expect from you. Why doesn’t it make sense for you to be able to go to say say you’ve got a car and you go to the car dealers website or to the manufacturer the car and you want to know well how often do I get my oil check you should be able to find that information. That’s the kind of information rich information that you know you’re not going to find new local newspaper you’re not you may not find you may have to go down to a bookstore but if you can put it on the web why not do that anticipate what the users of your product are going to need when they come to the Web.

Tom Fudge Well we’re almost out of time and we’ve got a ton of calls that I’m sad to say we’re just not going to get to. But before we run out of time Pam what’s a blog site and is there one that you like.

Pam Dixon Yeah the blog is essentially a ridiculous name for a web log it’s a journal that’s done online. I absolutely love Andrew Sullivan. I love the site. I think it’s groundbreaking in so many ways. First he asks you to donate money to him which I think it’s funny and you know it’s controversial and you hear about. I also love polytech which is a politics and technology site by Declan McCullough. That’s a good site too. He also asked for money but basically you know these are lively sites filled with conversation and ideas and they get you thinking and talking.

Joe Crawford I think that that’s those are two good examples of blogs particularly Declan McCullough and those are examples of journalists who have used the Web to kind of transcend their freelance nature which I think is absolutely wonderful. I run a site called San Diego Bloggers web San Diego dot org slash bloggers with lots of local folks who put blogs together including myself and I think that a blog is a great way to continuously update people on your life and to point out what’s interesting to you right now.

Pam Dixon And a blog is casual. It’s not formal.

Tom Fudge That’s right. OK. Well with that we’re going to have to call it off. I’d like to thank our guests for joining us. Pam Dixon is an author journalist and researcher who specializes in areas of new technology and new media. Pam thanks for coming on.

Pam Dixon Oh thank you it’s a pleasure.​

Tom Fudge And Joe Crawford is creator of web San Diego a mailing list for local web developers and others who work in the world wide web. Joe has been a web developer since about 1996. Joe thanks to you.

Joe Crawford It was a pleasure. Thank you.​

Tom Fudge Thanks to those who listened thanks to those who called in. And my apologies to those callers we couldn’t put on the show. If you have a question or comment about something you’ve heard on these days you can call our listener response line 6 1 9 5 9 4 22 20 or send us an email at these days at K.P. dot org. We may read your e-mail on the air so please include the name of your home community and tell us your first and last name. I’m Tom Fudge. You’ve been listening to these days on PBS.

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