Oct 17, 2007

Top Rated Website and Blog Designs

Why I Like Designers

Have you ever noticed a website that you really liked, but couldn't put your finger on it? In fact, I'm pondering what to do with the design of the ARRiiVE: More Customers, More Cash, More Quickly BlogTM. Frankly, I like simplicity. And, I also have a lot to say. Putting those two things together in one site creates the challenge to appear PROFESSIONAL, SLICK, and HIP -- while avoiding sounding like an elitist snob. This type of work might just call for a professional designer.

Do you ever worry about your website design? The reason I study designs (and hang-out with artists and designers) is, well, first-off, because I find they think a little differently than I do. I'm very auditory, somewhat visual, and like to put my hands on things to feel them. That's how I learn. I have to write it down, or it just might get forgotten.

Designers are VISUAL. They think in pictures. I enjoy the company of designers, because they help me see the world in new or different ways than I might see it with my own eyeballs. Now, in case you're saying, "What does design have to do with building teams, increasing sales, or improving my marketing?"

ANSWER: Design has a lot to do with sales and marketing success. I'll get to team-building in a moment. But, yes, if your marketing is good, your sales ought to follow. Then, it is up to you to deliver the service that matches the marketing.

How can I say this without blinking an eye? Because, while on a search for the TOP BLOGS in the world today, I came across a post that features some very hip and smooth blog designs. Not surprisingly, these blogs were built mostly by photographers or graphic designers. But, what impresses me most, is these site designs are not only sexy web designs: they also draw HIGH TRAFFIC, too. Google PR 7, Google PR6, Google PR8, Google PR5, and so-on. Those kinds of numbers are worth money. So, yes, sales follow good design (a component of excellence in marketing).

Here are some of the examples I chose to share with you:

Odd-and-ends.net Clean & Nice. Excellent navigation. Not too slick, but you definitely get engaged to want to view the portfolio. And, if I'm selling photography, that's important. I had to take away a point from my 9 score on design for the CafePress products (I dumped them years ago for being too greedy and too expensive). I was touched by several things at this site. My Score: 9 for Design, Google PR5. Overall 7.

Design: Clean, simple, with tons of white space. Large Fonts, bright, smart use of simple color-scheme. Black, white, and red links always has a cutting edge feel, to me. This site exemplifies one way designers think about presenting information. This blog is not yet getting what I call "Google Juice" but it sure has potential. They're getting a lot of comments on their posts (add mine to the list). My Score: Design 9, Google PR4, Overall 7. I wouldn't be surprised to see this go up...

A List Apart. The best of the lot. Not just visually attractive, but totally rich in content, without overwhelming me by any means. There's a lot any person developing a website could learn here from this site, alone. Simple control and navigation. Beautiful use of primary labels. Small, focused ad box. They pay for publication contributions, which encourages other authors to submit content. So, this is a collective - not a one-man shop, from what I can tell. I even like their shirts. Scores: Design 9. Google PR 8. Overall: 9.

SIDE NOTE: A List Apart featured the web's first ever panel of web designers, called The Web Design Survey, which surveyed almost 37,000 designers and came up with quite a large compilation of tips (over 33,000) that might serve as a somewhat bloated guide for many aspiring web designers. Kudos, again.

gizmodo.com. I know, I know. It's a geek site. But, you know what? They're probably the number 1 blog in terms of geek traffic. Every time I go there I find something new and cool that I like. Yeah, I like gadgets. And gizmodo is the king of online gadget info. They provide easy feeds, as if almost begging you to feed content off their RSS, which many, many tech sites, take advantage to gain cutting-edge content. They use a wide-format design which some users like and others don't. For their format, it seems to work. Design 7. Google PR 9 (traffic is off-the-hook). Overall 9.

Speaking of Google, how can you question the appeal in the massive use of white space and simplicity in their home page design? But Google also delivers on their promise: fast, quick, highly efficient search results. Google has captured the search market because of their site design. Sixteen words plus the search box is about as basic as it gets. It's what happens behind those words/links and the search box that matters most. Google's design is as much in their words and layout of the words and multi-colored logo. The layout conveys an inverse-pyramid (and implied pyramid underneath). This is a similar model to my own Diamond-Circle. Design: 10 Google PR10. Overall 10.

The Morning News. Clean design. Get out your reading glasses (small print). Black & White with some Red. Wide format makes me think "newspaper" when I read it, although they claim to be an "online magazine" published since 1999. Has an old-time feel in a modern approach. A pretty damned good site for what I think is a two-person shop. Succinct at what it's trying to do. Design 9. Google PR? Overall 8.

SimpleBits. This site is SIMPLE. They hit the nail on the head with their name and visual appeal. The logo I saw that they designed was nice. They've done work for MTV. Totally a pro shop. The bits are actually little fragments of articles, snapshots, books, speaking, and so forth. I don't quite understand why some of the elements are where they are... perhaps they can explain to me if I email. Design 9, Google PR2 Overall 7.

Where can you find a site where you might find a good designer? Well, any of the design-oriented sites I just mentioned might have resources for you, and if that isn't enough, here's another possibility: www.cpluv.com/.

I've used more than a handful of designers over the past eight years and don't regret any of them. I've gained designs or design ideas from each of them that I still use at AspireNow, Body, Black Market Trio, and ARRiiVE Business Solutions. Hopefully you can see the merit in shelling out some duckets to get a higher quality site and designer eyeballs on visualizing what you are doing with your blog or website. Your image might be the first (or last) thing your site visitors remember. What do you want to leave them with?

OH. One last thing: I bet you thought I forgot about teamwork, right? Remember the question? "How do designers impact TEAMS?" Simple. You gain someone who thinks in terms of elegant simplicity. You gain a visual thinker. Every team ought to include at least one designer. You're bound to see your project in a whole new light. And, who knows, maybe you'll get a new product design, logo, or website concept from them that boosts your team's results from survive to THRIVE.

Post by Scott Andrews, CEO of ARRiiVE Business Solutions.

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