INSIGNEO website design, showing mobile (left) and full width versions
INSIGNEO’s website features an annotated slideshow, to permit them to bring all of their strands of activity ‘above the fold’ on the home page – whether you are viewing it on a mobile phone, or wide-screen device! The slideshow is fully editable within WordPress, so it can be kept fresh by adding photos for news items alongside their on-going strands (such as their very successful launch in May 2013).
The site also has a custom diary, again fully editable within WordPress, that allows INSIGNEO to post seminar details of interest to its internal academic audience. You can visit the site through the link below:
MESH website, showing phone screen (left) and wide screen (right)
Following on from our last post (Websites for smart phones take centre stage) we’ve used a very slightly modified standard WordPress template to create a holding page for MESH – the ME Self Help website. This project will start in earnest later in 2013, and is intended to allow ME sufferers to record any changes in their symptoms in response to whatever treatment they are receiving.
The template follows the ‘mobile first’ philosophy, so smart phones users can see an interact with all of the site content.
Since the start of the world wide web there has been a problem that the devices your visitor uses to view your website can be very different in their basic capacity for displaying your site. Over the last ten years this problem reduced, as visitors adopted a fairly standard ‘web-enabled-device’ configuration consisting of a desktop computer, with a ‘modern’ browser, and a screen of about 1200x800px in dimensions.
Over the last five years, however, this situation has started to change again with the growing popularity of mobile devices, such as tablets and smart phones:
Global internet usage through mobile devices, not including tablets*, has almost doubled to 8.5% in January 2012 from 4.3% last year according to free web analytics company StatCounter.
While the stats above indicate that we need to start paying attention to these small-screen devices, the actual numbers of mobile browsers out in the wild is probably greater than that of our traditional desktop driving visitor – but browsing the web on a phone is, lets face it, painful.
HTML5 to the rescue?
The widespread adoption of HTML5 – which is not a recognised standard – is in part because it allows web-designers to adapt their designs for smaller screens, to smoothly simplify their sites, so that it works on a smart phone.
This approach is not without problems – the main smart-phone vendors are well aware that to be any use their browser must do a reasonable job of a ‘traditional’ website, allowing visitors using their smart phone full access to the web.
Often web designers actually make their sites worse by hacking out bits to simplify the site. This is particularly true if we try and adapt our sites for tablets – our philosophy (CookandKaye) is that these have large enough screens to manage all but the most bloated web layout, so generally we would leave well alone! (This is also cheaper for you!)
WordPress 2012 theme – the web on its head
We use WordPress themes very extensively* – with a small amount of customisation they offer a solid entry-level website for many of our clients. We therefore follow the latest theme developments with a great deal of interest. Over the last couple of years WordPress templates have attempted, with moderate success, to scale their layout to the smaller screen.
The latest template, however, changes everything by designing for the small screen, and then ‘going large’ for desktop and tablet displays.
Above: Movie showing the ‘smartphone first’ approach to web design. It focuses on what you need on your page first, and makes this available to a small-screen display. This may then be enhanced in an all-singing and dancing large screen version**.
This really is a daring piece of design, taking on board the probability that in a relatively small space of time a lot of people’s main browser will be on their phone. This may already be the case with the traditional WordPress market – instant news from the blogs you follow should be available instantly, wherever you are, and on whatever device you have to hand (usually your phone). Where the cutting edge leads, however, it is likely that the rest of the web will follow. This may be a couple of years down the road, but still an important decision for a new website design.
The advantages of the new WordPress design are obvious – in focussing on the mobile site first, you help ensure that a mobile user has everything they need from your website. There are, however, a number of downsides:
Without enhancement the site looks a bit minimalist on a traditional display (and with a better processor). Thus we still have a two layer design, adding background images and multi-column layouts where these can be appreciated on a larger screen. The second layer is activated using HTML5.
The bugbear is, however, Internet Explorer (as ever). Unfortunately a lot of people out there are still using older versions of IE, and these don’t understand HTML5. As a consequence we need a third layer – essentially an entirely independent set of styling instructions for these dinosaurs.
The advantage of this design philosophy is that you only have one website to manage, and the clever 2012 theme delivers the appropriate styling for the device. The problem is that there is quite a lot of extra work required to follow this design practice.
Conclusions – where to with your website?
The WordPress 2012 theme is a great, future (and past) proof, all-round theme for basic sites. As long as you like grey, which is apparently the new black, again. If you can use it ‘as is’ – go for it!
Adapting the design philosophy to create bespoke sites will, however, add to the price (but probably not as much as a second mobile site). In deciding whether or not this is a good move for your business, you need to take into account the type of service you are offering. For many businesses and academic institutions, we expect the conversion to mobile browsing to be a bit behind the curve, so for a website lifespan of three to five years, the added cost may not be justified.
If you have an existing site, you can check on the numbers of people using mobile devices on your site now (if you have these statistics), and work out where you are on the adoption curve. This may well indicate that a competent mobile site must be considered essential.
====== * We are not alone in recommending WordPress for a lot of our work. It accounts for over half of all CMS driven websites, and one in six of ALL websites (Feb 2013 w3techs.com) (BACK) ** Now with HTML5 movies – these are rather larger than the old Flash movies, but can play on mobile devices, though prone to jitters as the graphics processor on mobile devices is very under-powered compared to desktop machines. This may be one reason Apple chose not to support Flash, as Flash movies have to be re-generated on the fly – making for tiny downloads, but lots of graphic processor work… (BACK)
The new dive site pages for Lochaline Dive Centre are now online – we first mentioned the update a little while ago, with the design of new icons to help sort dive sites into sensible groups for planning a diving holiday.
Along with the dive icons, we’ve replaced the old Flash based map with a Google map, showing all of the dive sites in (more or less) their correct positions. We’ve also added 21 dive site pages – plenty of choice for divers looking for somewhere to dive on their holidays!
The sites and maps are all managed from a custom plugin we built that runs within the WordPress administration section. This converts a simple descriptive page for a site, adding a map and integrating it with the main/master map of local sites.
A Boy Was Born – a celebration of the work of Benjamin Britten
January 7th, 2013
Our client added new banners and content, along with a number of Spotify links so visitors can listen in to snippets of Britten’s work as teasers for the series of concerts to be held in Sheffield in 2013.
A link to the website (which from the Twitter feed appears to have been well received!) – is given below:
Above – three from a set of twenty icons indicating types of dive site for Lochaline Dive Centre. The image shows the initial sketches, used to check concept art with the client, and the final icon. The final icons reflect the site colour scheme, and the the wreck dive icon is based closely upon the Dive Centre logo to reinforce brand image.
New dive site pages being prepared to extend the current single page description of sites in the Sound of Mull (linked below) – which will become the diving home page with map and links to all sites. The plan is that visitors will be able to click icons to visit all sites of that type, simplifying the job of planning a sequence of dives.
The client will be able to select the appropriate icons from the WordPress control panel, and add a map position for the dive site, making it very easy to add and update sites.
We’re in the process of updating the content on the Nanofolio micro-site: What is nanotechnology?, and as a first stage we’ve upgraded the existing templates to HTML5, and added an element of responsive design.
The old site had a ‘flexible design’, so the page could be as wide as the monitor allowed. When it was first built the lack of an upper limit on width was not an issue, as monitors were only just beginning to break the old vacuum tube influenced 800x600px barrier…
Our new styling limits the maximum page width to 1000px, this is the largest readable width for the site, beyond this and lines of text are really hard to read.
Additionally, the old site did not display well on very narrow displays, as fixed width elements, like images, broke the layout
The new design re-scales images and objects as the page is made narrower, so it does not break, right down to its new minimum width of 300px. Below 600px in width the display switches to display the menu at the top of the page, below the banner, and both the menu and the content below it fill the entire width of the screen, to make the text easy to read and ensure that images are large enough to be seen on a smart phone.
As yet we have not added much in the way of new content (at least visibly – the meta content has been updated to improve Search Engine performance, and broken links have been removed!). One element we have added, however, is a 3D interactive C60 (buckminsterfullerene) model into the references section. This is reproduced above.
If you are interested in nanotechnology, there are a lot of resources available, including images and research features, on the Nanofolio website:
This site is based on a simplified WordPress 2011 template, to make it as easy as possible to manage. The template options have been reduced to single posts and pages, a blog view and an all-important photo gallery. The gallery is one of the strong points of the WordPress CMS – allowing the user to simply drag and drop photographs from their desktop into the post, WordPress does all of the donkey work of creating thumbnails and laying them out in the page.
The site features reactive design – permitting the page to scale between 300px and 1000px in width, with layout changes for narrower browser windows (narrow windows are usual for mobile devices, but if you have a desktop browser you can simply drag the window to re-size it and see how the layout changes). This feature is pretty much straight out of the WordPress template, keeping development costs down to a minimum, but still giving a nice, clean site that works across a range of platforms. As a nice addition, we’ve added two background graphics – in portrait and landscape formats – so that narrower windows have a more appropriately sized background image.