Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Website revisions: What do YOU think?

My new Gallery main page
In the last few days, I have been working on revising a few sections of my website. I created my website myself, and I am not a web designer. (Well, I guess technically I am, since I designed my website, but I’ve never designed anyone else’s, and I’ve never taken a class in web design.) What I know I taught myself, so there are a lot of things I’ve been wanting to do, but have no idea how. Little bit by little bit, I am figuring some things out. 

About a month ago at our Fiber Art Options (a group of Charlotte-area fiber artists) meeting, I asked the other members if they’d critique my website. I was particularly interested in their thoughts about my Gallery section, where I show my fiber art, because I was unhappy with it.

My old Gallery main page
At the time, the main Gallery page looked like the shot above. It had small images of each full piece, with the name underneath, and if you clicked on it, you went to a page with a larger image of the quilt and information, including materials, techniques, size, date, and availability or price. Then you had to click a “back” button, which took you back to the main Gallery page, to see the next page. To put it mildly, the Fiber Art Options members did not like this.

We agreed on the primary faults of the original Gallery page: 
  • The quilts were all of different sizes, so the images on this page were all different proportions, and there was no way to fit them into a clean grid. It looked cluttered and disorganized.
  • It was not convenient to keep having to go back and forth between the main Gallery page and the individual pages for each piece. 
  • This process also interrupted the “flow” of viewing my work and made it difficult and somewhat stressful, when it should invite the viewer to linger.
My fellow FAO members first suggested that I put my work into separate “folders,” divided by theme, series or year created. I have never been a fan of this approach, because it means that you have to go back to the main page when you are done with one folder in order to see the next. Deciding what goes in which folders can also seem somewhat arbitrary. And dividing work up into these kinds of folders means that you can’t quickly scan all the work at once.

The FAO members then suggested using something popular with many fiber artists: a line or block with tiny images of each piece, or with tiny chunks of each piece that the viewer could roll her cursor over or click to pop open a new window with a larger view of the piece. I decided against this approach, too, because I dislike websites with images that are really small, or with images that are such a tiny slice of the piece that you can’t get a decent idea of what the piece looks like without opening the second window or page. It seems like such a tease, and a waste of my time.

I decided that the approach that would best solve the problems of this page and still make me happy was to put my pieces in a grid, using large square chunks of each piece (see the photo at the top of this post). I tried to make the chunks big enough that they would be a decent representation of the whole work. If you click on the chunks, you go to a page with a larger image and more information. On each of these pages, there are buttons in the main sidebar you can click to go back to the first piece, to the previous piece, to the next piece, or to the last piece. I’m pretty happy with how it looks and works; it is much cleaner, and it is very easy to keep clicking the “next” button to view the entire gallery fairly seamlessly. 

I have also cleaned up my “In the News” page (and the page called “News Archive” with older news items that links from the In the News page). I’m thinking that I should apply the same sort of grid system to my Patterns page, too.

So… if you have the time and the inclination, please take a look at my website and tell me what you think about the changes I’ve made so far, and about things I need to change … What do you love? hate? think I should change? I’d really like to know. Just be gentle, dear blog readers. Constructive criticism, please.