Website Design – Developing The Back End

The back end is a mysterious and dangerous place. Well, only if you don’t know the landscape or the language. Doing work on the back end of a website without proper training can feel like traveling to a new country without a guide or translator. Things may look familiar, but you don’t know where your going, nothing makes sense, and you can get into trouble very quickly. That’s exactly why companies like ours have highly skilled web developers. When free cookie cutter templates won’t cut it, real back end developers are the only ones who can connect the zeros and ones in just the right way.
The virtual city-scape from Tron Legacy.

 

E-Commerce Systems: A Tale of User Experience

Back end functionality can take a website from average, to exceptional, if implemented correctly. Often, people try to set up e-commerce systems on their own. Just as often, this leads to a nightmare for their online business and their web team. With e-commerce, you MUST get it right, the first time. Internet users are particularly notorious for identifying bad systems, finding seemingly unnoticeable problems, and forming long lasting opinions based on very short experiences. The buzz word in the world of e-commerce right now is User Experience! Anyone can read tutorials online and set up basic back end systems, but it takes a highly trained web developer to integrate e-commerce systems fluidly into a website’s overall user experience, and that why we are here!

An "e" in a basket, just a visual metaphor for e-commerce.

Back End Basics: Payment and Data Collection

We are often surprised about how little consumers generally know about the difficulties behind back end website programming. In an age of PayPal, Constant Contact, and Hub Spot, all of this simple back end stuff should be easy right? WRONG!

Payment Integration – Setting up online payment capabilities for your website is not simple as 1,2,3. Sure you can make a basic “Buy It Now” button using PayPal for practically nothing, but as I mentioned above, seamless integration with the user experience of your website is not as easy as one would think. More importantly, if you want tracking of orders, special criteria, dynamic calculations, itemized sales capabilities or anything else of that nature, your talking about back end development. People who try to do this without the proper training end up wasting a lot of time, and even worse, can loose customers from a batched e-payment system. Nothing turns off a client more that a scary error or misstep during the online payment process. Get it right, or people will run for the hills and call your website a scam.

Data Collection – Keeping track of data collected online is one of the most amazing things about the modern internet. Simple lists and tables are not too complicated, but the more information you start collecting, the more complex the system on the back end must be. Once you start to collect data of a complicated nature, back end development is a must. Remember, the point of all of this digital hulabaloo is to make things easier and efficient, not to cause confusion or hassles. Once again its the back end developers to the rescue. Never trust someone to collect, store, and organize data from an online system unless they know what they’re doing.

Classic scene from Jurassic Park - Newman Takes Control of The System
Never let this guy have your administrator’s password.  Jurassic Park

Advanced Back End Systems: A Labyrinth of Code

When it comes to modern e-commerce, things are getting really cool, and really confusing. It takes a special type of mind to design, develop, and maintain a complicated back end system. For example, we had a client that wanted a calendar widget for their website. Most of the features they wanted come right out of the box in a free plug-in. However, the client wanted some very special scheduling and e-commerce capabilities for this calendar. Their only hope was our back end development expert. The simple fact is that their is a X/Y spectrum of customization and complexity. The more customized a client wishes their website to be, the more complicated the system will become. (Thanks captain obvious…)

A big green labyrinth of hedges

The point I have been trying to make is that when it comes to web development, there are many options out there. More importantly, when it comes to delivering a customized, seamless, and intuitive user experience, the old adage holds true, “You get what you pay for!”

Make sure to leave us a comment if you want to share anything. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter for more interesting articles like this one. Our website development team is standing by and ready to help you get you back end in order, so give us a call today!




Call Today for 20% Off Graphic Design Services!

Hello, my name is Ilana Gordon and I am the President and Creative Director at Word Wizards, Inc. Our company has been producing professional quality print and digital-media design for over 30 years. We are located in Silver Spring, Maryland and serve many government and private-sector clients in the DC metro area and beyond. The following is a short list of some of our specialties that we feel may fit the needs of your organization.

Print Media

Magazines
Brochures
Corporate reports and internal documents
Logos and “brand specific” printed materials
Conference collateral

Digital Media

eBooks/ePubs
Website design
Online marketing materials
Newsletters/eZines
Internet advertisements

Word Wizards is currently offering a 20% discount off of our normal hourly rate of $70/hr on all design services. We invite you to take a look at our online portfolio to review some examples of our work.

Please contact me directly or give our team a call if you are interested in discussing your next graphic design project. Thank you for your time and have a great day.

Best Regards,
Ilana Gordon
President, Creative Director
Word Wizards, Inc.
8555 16th Street, Suite 711
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-986-0808
wordwizardsinc.com/design

* This offer expires November 15, 2012, so call today!

 




5 Websites With Amazing Graphics

Word Wizards has provided graphic design services for over 20 years. The following is a list of some sites with amazing graphics that we want to share with you. These days graphic designers have better tools and technology than ever before. Thus, we present to our loyal bloggers and readers some amazing examples of graphic design on the cutting edge.

Amazing Tron Inspired Artwork by Graffiti Technica

Graphic Design Blog .Org

I first stumbled on to this blog because of an article they posted, Conceptual Digital Artwork by Top 5 Digital Artists. Some of these graphics really blew me away. GDB.org is a great place to catch some great examples of the cutting edge of graphic design, and hear from experts who want to showcase their graphic arts capabilities.

The Art Of Sam Farrand

Wow this graphic artist is inspirational to say the least. Specializing in sacred geometry and the power of digital fractal art, Sam is truly on the cutting edge of the graphic design spectrum. His website is not completely finished, which is why I have pointed you to his Facebook page, but Sam is most defiantly worth a look if your into some wild digital mastery.

Webitect – 40 Breathtaking Examples of Graphic Design Examples

It may only be one post on a much broader blog, but the graphics are stunning to say the least. This post explores several different categories of graphic design in the digital age including, Vector graphics, photo manipulations, and more!

Fotolia – Graphics, Stock Photos, and More

Looking for that perfect piece of clip art, photograph, or simple graphic? Look no further! Fotolia is one of our favorite resources for professional graphics and graphical elements. Check out their amazing library and enjoy!

Grafitti Technica

Wow, wow, wow, this site has some amazing examples of how talented and inspirational digital graphics can be. Attention, no buildings were vandalized in the making of this website, 100% digital, 100% legal.

A Word of Possibilities

Word Wizards is happy to share these examples of some far out graphic design work. We usually stay in the more practical realms with our graphic design services, but we take inspiration from all of these incredible, and free resources. Thanks to all the artists and designers who allow free browsing of their material on the web. Remember, always support your artists in any way you can, share their work with your network and make sure to support their art!




SEO Tips – Spam Defense Catpchas Vs. Bots

Catpchas for security

Many blogs use comments to provide a more interactive experience for their users. People can share opinions, criticize disagreements, or even just let you know that they found your article helpful. Sadly, when you allow unrestricted access to your comment feed,  spammers and spam “bots” quickly move in and start taking advantage for their own malicious SEO purposes. Furthermore, if you require every commenter on your blog to sign up, many people will be turned off at the seemingly blatant attempt to “capture” their information for the sake of interaction. So how do you allow easy access to posting comments and prevent the spammers from taking advantage?

Catpchas To The Rescue:

A catpcha is a special field added to a form that prevents automated services from polluting your feeds with filth. The concept is that it requires just a little bit of human thought to answer , preventing automated “bots” from spamming you constantly. We chose to use a simple question in written format that makes sense to any legitimate users, but confuses bots and thwarts spamming attempts by denying them access. There are many different categories of catpchas, some visual, some verbal, and some written.

HumanCaptcha

HumanCaptcha is plugin written by Outerbridge which uses questions that require human logic to answer them and which machines cannot easily answer.  Most captchas are based on the requirement to reproduce a number of randomly-generated characters (which are sometimes blurred, jiggled and/or on a fuzzy background).  HumanCaptcha generates a simple question which the user must answer using logical thought.  HumanCaptcha is much more accessible than standard captchas, which many people find difficult to read or understand.  Visually impaired people are more likely to be able to use HumanCaptcha than a character-based one.

Lock it up!

CAPTCHAs are useful for improving security in a number of situations, for example:

1.    Reducing Comment Spam in Blogs
Most bloggers will have come across programs that submit spam comments, often with the aim of improving the search engine ranking of a website.  By using a CAPTCHA, only humans can enter comments on your blog, and people do not need to sign up before they enter a comment.
2.    Protecting Email Addresses From Scrapers
Spammers crawl the web looking for e-mail addresses rendered in text. CAPTCHAs can hide your e-mail address from web scrapers, by requiring users to solve a CAPTCHA before revealing your e-mail.
3.    Deterring Viruses, Worms and Spam
CAPTCHAs may reduce the likelihood of e-mailed viruses, worms and spam, by only accepting an e-mail if it has been established that there is a human behind the sending computer.




Graphic Design Tech – Adobe Creative Cloud

In today’s digital world people want easy access to everything. Do you need to look at your bank statement? Load an app on your smartphone. Order a pizza? Log onto Domino’s and order away.

Going with that trend, Adobe has decided to add new capabilities to their entire Creative Suite for collaboration and distribution on the “cloud.” By paying a subscription based fee, one can work on projects in Creative Suite from multiple machines with the CS software installed. The idea that you can access your creative & design work from anywhere and at any time is a very intriguing prospect, especially for our graphic design department.

Graphic design tools go to the cloud!

Instant Collaboration

Creative Cloud for example would allow a graphic designer in Alaska to collaborate with their client across the globe at any time of day and on any computer they wish to access it from as long as the necessary software is installed. Or if you’re on the road traveling and only have access to edit your web design project for 30 or 40 minutes a night then you can easily log-in with your laptop work on it a bit, save it for later, and instantly send it back to the office for review.

Adobe has done it again.

Data Asset Security

Another positive aspect of putting everything on the cloud the risk of losing data is signifigantly minimized. If you have Adobe’s Creative Suite installed locally and it wasn’t backed up properly or if something haywire happened with your systems or hard drives then you could potentially lose a lot of
very important data.

Stay safe and secure in the cloud!
Putting your work on the cloud eliminates the risk of loosing your work in the event of a computer crash. If your computer won’t boot up then you can always use another machine and instantly access the cloud based creative design project you had been working on.

Cloudy Forecast

Clouds on the Horizon

The ease of use and accessibility cloud services gives the end user is amazing but I think what attracts people the most to the cloud phenomenon is the freedom it gives you. The very fact that a video editor or web designer could collaborate on a project anywhere and at any time is enough to attract customers
to cloud based subscription services like Creative Cloud.




Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center: New Custom Calendar

One of our favorite web clients, the Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center, LLC, has become very creative with the WordPress Ajax Event Calendar plugin.  This plugin is beautifully written and allows detailed entry of color-coded events.  It allows links, images, and maps in the event detail, which show in a modal window.   But because the Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center’s calendar is jam-packed, they needed an adjustment for their clientele.

 

Test Link

Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center using Ajax Event Calendar
hollywoodballroomDC.com uses Ajax Event Calendar

There is always something happening at the Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center.  On any particular day, the calendar may have six or seven entries.  That means that their calendar extends far down on the web page.   And when you are in the middle of the calendar, it’s easy to lose track of where you are.

To improve their user experience, Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center has created a header category to show the day of the week as well as the day number. We suppressed the date numbers that would show in the grid by default to avoid redundancy.  The result is a kinder cleaner experience for their dancers.

Take a glace at this Ajax Event Calendar.  With the color-coded categories, the extensive detail available for each event, and the clarity of presentation, the calendar is working well for the  Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center.  And their customers are so pleased they are doing the happy dance.

 




Graphic Design For The Web: Bridging The Gap

Graphic design has been a specialty of Word Wizards, Inc. since day one. Before we even had our own office, we were offering professional desktop publishing and graphics design for clients. Our team of graphic designers are experts in the latest graphic design technology. As the tools of graphic design have evolved, so has the pool of competition in the graphics design industry. With the dawn of the internet age, finding a good graphics artist is easier than ever, and the fine line between graphic designer and web designer is blurring.

Word Wizards Inc Home Page

Graphics for the Web

Composing graphics for the web is an entirely different animal than traditional graphics design. Graphic design for websites must covey a specific message to a non-specific audience. The balance between quality, detail and data size is always an issue, especially with page speed as a critical factor in modern SEO ratings. Graphic images must be tested for clarity and color in multiple browsers due to discrepancies in the way different software displays images. Possibly the most important factor is the layout and optimization constraints of a website, meaning, the way one organizes graphic information on the web makes all the difference when users are navigating through a website.

A synthesis between graphic arts and web design.
Click to see an example of the perfect fusion between graphic design and web design.

Bridge The Gap

With progress comes new challenges and new opportunities. The world of graphic design and web design is now forever intertwined. It is up to firms like ours to maintain the highest level of quality in our graphic design efforts as the capabilities of design software and the expectations of our clients continue to increase in complexity. Just remember, you always get what you pay for, especially when it comes to graphics. Yes, graphic designers and web designers are now overly common services offered cheaply and globally via the internet. However, an intimate knowledge of how to integrate graphic elements on the web only comes from years of experience and a deep understanding of how users work with the internet.




New Website Launch: Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center

The Word Wizards website design team proudly launched http://hollywoodballroomDC.com/ last week.

Screenshot taken from Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center website designed by Word Wizards, Inc.

Nothing is more satisfying to our team of web developers than the launch of a new website. Just as with our graphic design services, our website design efforts are original and customized each time. Translating business objectives into a functional, optimized, and graphically organized website is a unique challenge each time. It requires a meticulous attention to detail and the requirements of the client. It further requires our web developers to think outside the box and come up with effective solutions to seemingly impossible problems.

Some of the web design challenges we faced and overcame in this project include:

  • Organizing a website with many different components
  • Creating an easy to use navigation bar without sacrificing design or functionality
  • Designing stimulating graphics that convey the message intended by the client
  • Coding of advanced custom features, i.e. a calendar that can be easily modified, and a side bar that “floats”
  • Making sure the website functions properly on several different browsers

Word Wizards would like to congratulate our client on the successful new launch of this website. We invite you to explore this web page as an example of our extensive capabilities as a website development firm. If you reside in the DC metro area and you would like to learn how to dance, or rent a big space to host an event, we strongly recommend that you stop by The Hollywood Ballroom Dance Center and take a look around.




Red Alert: Stop SOPA From Destroying the Internet

It is not usually our policy to get political here at Word Wizards. However there is a largely under-discussed item of legislation that could change the free internet forever. Our friends at WordPress covered this issue quite well, so we have broken our normal habit of only publishing original articles to bring you their post in its entirety. If SOPA passes, our entire domain could be taken down for something like this without any chance to prove our innocence. Luckily that hasn’t happened yet and we know our friends at WordPress will understand the use of some of their material to spread this message.

The following was graciously extracted from the official WordPress blog:

Help Stop SOPA/PIPA

Posted January 10, 2012 by Jane Wells. Filed under Community.

You are an agent of change. Has anyone ever told you that? Well, I just did, and I meant it.

Normally we stay away from from politics here at the official WordPress project — having users from all over the globe that span the political spectrum is evidence that we are doing our job and democratizing publishing, and we don’t want to alienate any of our users no matter how much some of us may disagree with some of them personally. Today, I’m breaking our no-politics rule, because there’s something going on in U.S. politics right now that we need to make sure you know about and understand, because it affects us all.

Using WordPress to blog, to publish, to communicate things online that once upon a time would have been relegated to an unread private journal (or simply remained unspoken, uncreated, unshared) makes you a part of one of the biggest changes in modern history: the democratization of publishing and the independent web. Every time you click Publish, you are a part of that change, whether you are posting canny political insight or a cat that makes you LOL. How would you feel if the web stopped being so free and independent? I’m concerned freaked right the heck out about the bills that threaten to do this, and as a participant in one of the biggest changes in modern history, you should be, too.

You may have heard people talking/blogging/twittering about SOPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act. The recent SOPA-related boycott of GoDaddy was all over the news, with many people expressing their outrage over the possibilities of SOPA, but when I ask people about SOPA and its sister bill in the Senate, PIPA (Protect IP Act), many don’t really know what the bills propose, or what we stand to lose. If you are not freaked out by SOPA/PIPA, please: for the next four minutes, instead of checking Facebook statuses, seeing who mentioned you on Twitter, or watching the latest episode of Sherlock*, watch this video (by Fight for the Future).

Some thoughts:

  • In the U.S. our legal system maintains that the burden of proof is on the accuser, and that people are innocent until proven guilty. This tenet seems to be on the chopping block when it comes to the web if these bills pass, as companies could shut down sites based on accusation alone.
  • Laws are not like lines of PHP; they are not easily reverted if someone wakes up and realizes there is a better way to do things. We should not be so quick to codify something this far-reaching.
  • The people writing these laws are not the people writing the independent web, and they are not out to protect it. We have to stand up for it ourselves.

Blogging is a form of activism. You can be an agent of change. Some people will tell you that taking action is useless, that online petitions, phone calls to representatives, and other actions won’t change a single mind, especially one that’s been convinced of something by lobbyist dollars. To those people, I repeat the words of Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

We are not a small group. More than 60 million people use WordPress — it’s said to power about 15% of the web. We can make an impact, and you can be an agent of change. Go to Stop American Censorship for more information and a bunch of ways you can take action quickly, easily, and painlessly. The Senate votes in two weeks, and we need to help at least 41 more senators see reason before then. Please. Make your voice heard.

END OF ARTICLE

Word Wizards is united in our outcry against this unconstitutional limitation on our freedom to express ourselves and operate our small business. Our business would be instantly and negatively impacted by this legislation. So on behalf of our executives, developers, and everyone else that relies on this business for a good American small business job, STOP THIS MADNESS BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.




Web Design: There’s No I in Team

Web design in its various forms has become big business around the world. From the most basic amateur pages to complex multilevel corporate projects, producing a website always depends on the resources, requirements, and time constraints of the individual. The lower end web design projects are moving increasingly towards automatic content management systems; where users can pick a template, customize and in a very short time create a functional website. At Word Wizards we focus more on custom solutions for our clients, nothing we do here is “cookie cutter” and each project we take on results in a professional quality, fully integrated, web solution.

Sounds cool, right?… But what does it take to design and implement a professional grade website? It takes a team effort, and specifically, it requires a team of unique individuals, each with their own expertise in various aspects of web design. We have noticed that there are usually three “gurus” required to make a web design project effective. These three flavors of design experts each focus on a different critical aspect of the web design process, and work together to ensure that the three top priorities of website development are handled with expert care.

The three main things to manage when creating a new website are, functionality, appearance, and implementation. Functionality is responsible for making sure that the structural design effectively satisfies the intended function of the website and creates an effective, non-confusing user experience. Appearance takes structure and functional organization and translates it into a graphic design that is visually appealing to the users and consistent with the brand and intended purpose of the client. Implementation is the back-end guts of the website; which includes all the coding, hosting, domain support, CMS workflow, and database support.

The Functional Expert

Generally, this is a person who really understands the way individuals use the internet for different purposes. This individual is responsible for creating a structure that provides easy access to all the important information. In addition, this web expert must understand and manage the constraints of SEO and weave them into the fabric of the page from the beginning. Possibly the most important role of the functional web designer is the creation of a user friendly workflow, providing a user experience that works for the intended purpose of the website and doesn’t confuse any less than savvy internet users.

The Appearance Expert

To transform conceptual structure and theoretical workflow into visual form takes the expertise of a master graphic designer. This expert must know how to utilize advanced graphic design software and create visual components from scratch that will be used to create the physical appearance of a web page. It is the responsibility of this person to come up with an exciting and effective visual experience for the users, making sure that everything is in plain sight, and being creative with the way everything will look, while still maintaining functional integrity.

The Implementation Expert

Sometimes known as the “webmaster” or, in our office, “the code warrior!” This individual is gifted with an intimate knowledge of the ever evolving world of programming languages. The functional and visual elements of a website are mute if you can not host it, integrate it, and keep it working smoothly. When designing a new website, this person holds the reigns, because all of the work your team produces will reflect their level of talent and proficiency. It is this person’s responsibility to put your plans into action, keep the web page updated, and hard code any interactive or data driven elements into a functional machine known as a web page.

Thus, we have created a trifecta of experts, but there is still one person missing from the team…

The beloved SUPERVISOR. Yes, its is the supervisor that truly brings it all together. This person doesn’t need to be an expert at any one function, but the they must have a working knowledge of all of components of the website and coordinate between the various members of the design team. This person is responsible for organization, cross coordination, and managing the needs of the client as reflected by the design and capabilities of the team.

So now you know what it takes, and if you don’t think you can squeeze it all by yourself, the Word Wizards Web Design Team is here to give you a helping hand!