Website Design, October 2021
Treasure Coast International Film Festival
Organization Is Key
When I was given access to the TCIFF website, my first instinct was to condense elements and create patterns throughout the site. The site provided a wealth of information. In fact, the TCIFF did a rather excellent job of keeping the website updated with information as it became available; it was literally a living document.
The problem is that the information was not organized in a way that made it easy to navigate and a pleasure to read. HTML uses header tags like H1, H2, and H3 to create information hierarchies in a web document. The TCIFF website used the header tags for paragraphs, while rarely using the paragraph tag at all. I understood why – the header tags make text look legible on a small screen, but it’s not necessary as a web browser will resize text based on a user’s preferences and there are standards for web design for this reason.
Additionally, information chunking was another majorly important practice that was missing on the website. People will not read large bodies of text, rather they skim and scan it. Research has proven that pertaining to digital copy, people skim and scan worse than they do with physical print, but they think they read it accurately. I learned that while working at Indian River State College, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
Ascend By WIX
The initial plan was to clean up the website. I had viewed it several times prior to my assignment; I identified what needed to be condensed, constrained, and chunked, and I had researched some other film festival websites to be prepared to help TCIFF meet expectations.
The site was built on the Ascend platform by WIX. Previously, I’ve only ever worked on Notepad, Dreamweaver, Microsoft Web Expressions 4, Weebly, and WordPress. I wasn’t prepared for the immense creative capability supported by the Ascend platform, but I was enthusiastically relieved. The platform made it super easy to customize colors, text, and elements, and it allowed for the addition of some awesome background effects without special plugins. Nearly everything was customizable.
Overwhelming SFX Options
But that was also part of the problem. It’s so incredibly customizable that it can be overwhelming for non-design oriented web masters. For example, using this platform required me to calculate pixels to ensure equal spacing between H1s, H2s, paragraphs, images and other elements. Yes, there’s math involved! Most people aren’t going to do that.
Also, all of the SFX that can be placed on elements are intoxicating. Drop shadows on fonts, special frames on photos, all sorts of button sizes and styles, and text/image animations littered the site. I fell victim to it myself, the parallax effect was mesmerizing.
Plan, Splan – We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Plan
Without a real plan in place, and the intent of just refreshing the website, I found a new hero image – a video on Pexels – and began designing around it. At first I was using pinks and whites with yellow and black as accents, but the then-current logo for the TCIFF began subconsciously moving me to yellow, black, and white as the primary color choices with pink as a secondary color choice on the pages.
My font choices also changed as I began working on multiple pages. Poppin became my preferred Header font, whereas initially I started with Playfair. Projects tend to take on a personality of their own, and typefaces and colors either support or hinder their character. My initial choices weren’t a fit for the emerging new identity of the TCIFF.
The experience was very enlightening to the amount of trial and error necessary in the development of a website being stylishly refreshed on the fly. It’s not my preference to work without a clear plan, especially when under the gun, but I’ve worked under worse conditions, so together we can make anything happen.
It’s Not Magic, It’s The Design Process
Within 2-days of starting on the website, I had overhauled 60% of it. There were some pages that I wasn’t sure what to do with just yet as the information was still changing. Honestly, websites should be built with content already in hand. It’s like designing a fancy coat for an animal but not knowing if the animal will be a wolf, a bear, or a panther. They all have some similar, basic needs, but a designer must consider their unique needs, their size, and how they move, even if only a little different from each other.
When designing for information, I need to know the type of information, the length, and the supporting elements like photos, videos, or anything else that will accompany it. Until that information was provided, I was in a stalemate. I decided to use the time to help them along by learning more about WIX via YouTube and discovered that it was my new favorite website platform.
Once the information was available, I quickly finished up the remaining 40% of the website and the TCIFF administrators were very pleased with the outcome and the response that the changes garnered from their sponsors, partners, and filmmakers.
I don’t mind sharing that this project was an unpaid volunteer experience. If and when I give away my work, I give away the best of me. If you’d like to read more about my overall volunteer experience, check out my blog, the Heartsleeve Monologue – Give It Your Best & No Less: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Prior to this project, I avoided web design opportunities because they can be overly stressful and require a degree of technical sophistication that I lack experience with. Designing a website, in our modern age, is similar to designing a magazine 20-years ago with consideration to the depth and the scope of the work.
However, unlike then when a designer had to worry about just typefaces, layouts, and color matching, now there are many additional factors to design around like offensive imagery (what’s considered offensive just keeps expanding), ADA-compliance, SEO, screen adaptability (responsive design), digital literacy (the use of conventions or the break-away from them will cause issues for entire groups of users), site security, payment gateways, and so, so much more.
What I learned in this project was that I should have more confidence in myself as a web designer. The landscape for web design has changed and the tools to create for it have advanced. I can do this.
It’s time to get to work, Treasure Coast.
Side Note: I realize that much of this work doesn’t typically fall onto the designer alone in metropolitan areas, but in rural, small towns – even those growing like Port St. Lucie, FL – designers are basically all-in-one.