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Author Topic: [WHS] Seeking Input on Site Design  (Read 4940 times)
greyorm
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« on: May 12, 2008, 11:56:31 AM »

I've been aware for some time that the Wild Hunt Studios website isn't exactly a stunning piece of visual design (though the coding was a pain in the ass), and since one's website is basically an advertisement for your company and products, it needs a face lift. The most current design was only thrown together as a placeholder until I could come up with something a little more catchy and visually intriguing.

I've done a little updating over the last couple weeks, and hopefully improved it a bit. But at this point it is only serviceable, not stunning. That's not the aura I want to project. But I am having difficulties with a better design, however, possibly stemming from a visual-creative dry spell I was suffering through for some time (the extremely well-read individual will note the vast differences in design between Electric Ghosts and ORX, or my websites from the 90's and my current set of sites).

I used to perform web-design for a living, so I'm looking to try and life myself back on the design wagon by soliciting feedback and suggestions about the WHS site: other sites to look at, specific designs to take inspiration from, and critiques of the current layout/graphics/design would all be appreciated. Also, what information or functionality needs to be there that is missing? What would you like to see on the site? What do you feel needs to be changed?

Thanks in advance!
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2008, 12:36:10 PM »

Actually, my current favourite indie game site over all others is http://www.agon-rpg.com/. The things I find impressive in it:
  • Large, evocative image. One. Used as a background identifier for the whole site.
  • Compact. Only the necessary content, deviced to hit the point and nothing else. The creator does not imagine that he has the free time to update the site and make it a routine destination - this is functional, with just one purpose. Easy to navigate, with large, unambiguously named buttons for the main functions.
  • Simple HTML, no tricks or effects apart from the fixed-width colum layout.
  • Minimal upkeep requirements. I'd almost be tempted to have the link portal somewhere else as well just so one wouldn't need to update that, either, but I guess having one page to update now and then is acceptable.
I'll need to build some kind of English-language site for Arkenstone as well come August, and I'll probably strive for something similarly simple and stylish. Note that the Adept Press sites for the smaller games have many of these same properties as well. I guess the principle I appreciate in these is that of relying on the internet to actually do its job and provide content and media for showing it to people - your own website does not need to be it, and you actually don't need long reams of text on the site; just link to all the cool stuff, make your own site ultra simple and forget it until you publish something new or whatever.

Another good model you might consider is to combine a blog and company website, like http://www.chimera.info/ does. Using a content control system like a blog program is makes for ultra-easy website maintenance, and having your blog on the site takes care of the content updating thing. Only works if you want to blog, of course.

The third possibility is to do it like the Finnish Arkenstone site does: it's a huge conglomeration of pages delivering reviews and content for around 50 different indie games, with all kinds of small perks and bonus material and a forum, too. Another example of this model is http://www.burningwheel.com/. I only recommend this if you want to build communities, have 20 people in your company or happen to have a whole country you need to educate on your favourite hobby. For any other purpose a website like this is too untidy, too much work and too inefficient - just compare the Arkenstone site with the Agon site and remember that I have better things to do than IE-optimize and hone a website consisting of generations of material, databases in three different uses and hundreds of articles. I do it when I have nothing better to do, but for the most part the site gets by on "good enough" insofar as efficiency and attention to detail is concerned.

The WHS website isn't that bad either, by the way - it doesn't annoy me or anything. I'd probably get rid of the floating background and combine/condense the individual pages. You might also consider if it's the company or the product that you're pushing here - in your case it might well be the company, but for many others the product is the better choice. If it's the company (and you the person), then putting all the products on one page with small pictures of them and links to the actual stores might be a good call. Then you could put in some more personal information and an art portfolio to further emphasize the site as being your public face for the internet. An explicit contact info page isn't a bad idea for that purpose, either.
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Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
greyorm
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« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2008, 12:58:42 PM »

Thanks for the advice, Eero. It is appreciated.

My site isn't so much a product site as it is a company site (in fact, I'm not very fond of product-only sites, despite ORX having it's own devoted site and despite my thinking the Agon site is one of the nicest sites I've ever seen). And you've brought up some things I hadn't consciously considered.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
greyorm
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« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2008, 10:05:06 AM »

In my copious spare-time *cough* I've been working on a couple possible layouts for WHS. You can see two mock-ups of the layout I settled on created for public discussion/feedback here and here. Thoughts and suggestions on the design are appreciated. I specifically want to see if other people are seeing what I'm seeing, so any comments on negative space that should be dealt with or busy-ness that needs to be toned down, color or lack thereof, are my main concerns at this juncture. Thanks!
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2008, 10:56:06 AM »

I like number 5 better myself, as the framing helps in recognizing the columns and separating them from the graphics. Other than that, I'd like this as a book cover - don't know how well it does as a website, as there's a lot of graphics there.
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Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
greyorm
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« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2008, 12:24:57 PM »

I like number 5 better myself, as the framing helps in recognizing the columns and separating them from the graphics. Other than that, I'd like this as a book cover - don't know how well it does as a website, as there's a lot of graphics there.

I had the same thought about it looking like a bookcover. That's good.

But, I'm not trying to poll for "I like/dislike" or "prefer/do not prefer" reactions and I'm worrying this might turn into that. I'm looking for a functionality-based-on-goals assessment (so we could pretend we're talking about game design, and I'm presenting a Simulationist game so Narrativist design techniques and preferences will not help refine it) thus perhaps knowing my design goals will help focus the feedback.

I am opposed to the "spartan" often "content-only" design that was in vogue on the web for its early years, and is still clung to by many techies, hence why I am not staying with the current design or just cutting it down.

Instead, I want a very open design, where the content can breathe and is not crushed together, a bit Web2.0 but not sparse, and a design such that the site itself is also pleasant to look at (Why do people go to museums and art galleries? To look at art, even and especially art they've seen a thousand times before. I want a design that does the same thing regardless of the content). My inspirations are and goal is to appear similar to the styles and designs found in the CSS Zen Garden, and in various Top Ten site design lists.

As references, the Agon site is an example of a pretty site that I like the look of, with the content too sparse and too open. The Arkenstone site is an example of tons of content but no breathing space for it, very cramped, and a spartan design that does not move me. I'm going for something that combines my positives of those two and avoids my negatives in them.

My question to you specifically then, keeping the above goals in mind and your previous statement, would be: are the graphics distracting as they are laid out now, drawing the eye away from the text, rather than highlighting/enclosing it? (And if you answer is, "I don't know, I don't like those kinds of websites so I can't comment on how/if they work" that's fine, too.) And of course, any other suggestions/ideas you have that might mesh with meeting my design goals.

Thanks again, Eero!
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2008, 01:35:43 PM »

That's a well-framed question. However, my call would be that the large amount of graphical glitter works only insofar as your content will comprise of short & punchy bits that are likewise punched up typographically. I'd expect large reams of bland text, say, to conflict with this sort of graphically liberal layout to some degree. Which is of course not a problem if you don't intend to run articles or other text masses on the site.

As an example of my thinking, calling your sidebar "Ride with the Hunt" is cute and implies some brand building (the wild hunt as a "thing" the audience is expected to align their interests to), but it's also potentially slightly disorienting for audience that does not reside in that mind-frame. For example, I wouldn't myself come to an indie rpg publisher's website expecting a requirement to buy into the legend of that particular publisher; thus I wouldn't necessarily realize that it's just a navigation sidebar instead of an advertisement before I'd actually read the link names themselves.

(The Burning Wheel website has lots of similar tribal insistence to it in the way it presents content; Burning Wheel is presented as a life-style choice. Opinions differ on whether that's reasonable or not.)

Considering your design goals, I think you have a pretty good basis here. I'd just cut down on the graphical elaboration to show off the actual content more: the audience nowadays is constantly dazzled by multimedia presentations of all sorts, so trying to compete in that is largely futile. Thus your goal in graphic design should be to impress a definite and memorable look to your site, not just impress the audience with how pretty the site is. For instance, in your stead I would probably remove the sigils on lower and upper right, as well as the watermark on the upper portion... actually, I'd consider removing everything except the header area, sigil on the left and some sort of toned-down separator between the columns; add some low-contrast graphics to the empty left-side column, and that'd be enough to impress the visitor with the unique and memorable graphical look of your site.

Leaving that aside, though, a lot depends on the sort of site structure you're thinking of using. What sort of pages and subpages will you have? How much text and graphical content on each? I don't think that the optimal representation can be entirely determined without looking into the intended content as well.
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Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
greyorm
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« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2008, 03:03:50 PM »

Thanks. Most of the site content will be short text, maybe up to one image on some particular pages, while anything longer (including some of the materials on the site right now) will be relegated to PDFs for download and leisurely printing/reading later.

As an example of my thinking, calling your sidebar "Ride with the Hunt" is cute and implies some brand building (the wild hunt as a "thing" the audience is expected to align their interests to), but it's also potentially slightly disorienting for audience that does not reside in that mind-frame.

Those were my thoughts/suspicions/concerns exactly; but I left it in because it's just a mock-up. I think you're correct that it may be off-putting and tribalist, but I like it enough--it's clever and looks cool--I may have to use it somewhere else, as perhaps a link to the forum or a newsletter (that doesn't yet exist) or automatic e-mail update on products. (I also had a similar "Follow the Pack" graphic I'd considered in the same place, but also rejected on similar grounds.)

Quote
I'd just cut down on the graphical elaboration to show off the actual content more: the audience nowadays is constantly dazzled by multimedia presentations of all sorts, so trying to compete in that is largely futile.

I'll take a look at doing so. But I'm not trying to "compete" with flashy multimedia or provide moving dazzle, no more than a painting is trying to compete with a film (hence my museum/art gallery analogy). Making a positive, memorable visual impression is all I'm after, creating something interesting to look at/visually explore/experience.

Quote
Thus your goal in graphic design should be to impress a definite and memorable look to your site, not just impress the audience with how pretty the site is.

I'm not really going for "pretty"..."aesthetically interesting/visually stimulating" would be a more accurate phrase, but whatever you call it, those two things are inseparably linked in my mind (memorable = "pretty"), so I'm afraid I can't do one without the other. Which isn't to say I don't understand what you mean: that is indeed what I am trying for, a specific and identifiable brand identity.

But I also want a brand identity that stands out as an individual, rather than being another pretty design just like all the other pretty designs and brand identities. I suspect breaking a few rules and failing to conform to norms is the best way to do that. And I think the best way to do that, in my case, is to make the design itself a piece of art integrated with but separate from the content. Or I'm just quite mad, that's certainly possible.

Quote
...in your stead I would probably remove the sigils on lower and upper right, as well as the watermark on the upper portion... actually, I'd consider removing everything except the header area, sigil on the left and some sort of toned-down separator between the columns; add some low-contrast graphics to the empty left-side column, and that'd be enough to impress the visitor with the unique and memorable graphical look of your site.

Hrm. You wouldn't know this, but I'd actually done that at one point, then later added the sigils and watermarks, etc. I felt the header carrying the weight of the site by itself did not have enough of a presence or provide enough branding/memorability, but I'll see if there is another way to approach the same more-minimized design.

Also, I hadn't tried putting anything in the empty left, but I'll see what happens if I tone everything else back down (I may also be using that for a few pieces of short content undecided at the moment, but I need to see how crowded that becomes with the other content and/or the graphics).

Thanks for the feedback!
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Matt Machell
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« Reply #8 on: July 07, 2008, 02:00:12 AM »

You might want to do a view source on your site. It looks like you've been hit by the Wordpress spammer hack that's been doing the rounds (loads of drug spam hidden inside a display:none on your front page).

Looking at your new design ideas, I wonder if the WHS text gets a bit lost in the header background.

-Matt
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greyorm
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« Reply #9 on: July 07, 2008, 09:50:56 AM »

You might want to do a view source on your site. It looks like you've been hit by the Wordpress spammer hack that's been doing the rounds (loads of drug spam hidden inside a display:none on your front page).

Thanks for the heads-up, I hadn't heard about this one. Fixed now, though I'm still combing through the site and db to see if there's anything else amiss.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
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