Effective Website Design

As a part of my digital writing class, I’ve been working on a website for a small business to help create an online presence for that business. Having a website is a promotional staple among businesses, but an effective website design is just as important as the website itself. So that brought me to thinking, what makes an effective website? What design elements successfully draw the audience in? Here are some website building and design principles I’ve come to find are effective:

Uniformity/Repetition

Often, a user stumbles upon a webpage not through the homepage of a site, but through a search engine that takes him directly to that webpage. Having a website that makes use of the same design and layout on each page will help a user more easily navigate through a site and not get lost. For example, in the website for a local cupcake shop called What About Cupcakes, the website makes use of the same pink design, the same fonts, and the same layout to make sure that users know where they are and how to make their way around that site.

Navigation

Navigation is one of the most important principles in website design. Users who get to a specific webpage and browse through different pages in the same site need to know what specific page they are on. Highlighting or underlining the page like, as shown in The Next Web’s site, does a good job of this. As a user, I know that I am on the section that displays articles on Design and Development, and from there, I can easily go to different pages and make my way back to this page.

Links to Social Media

A strong online presence is important for maintaining customer awareness for a business. Often, a business will choose to build a website and create social media accounts to stay connected to their customers. An effective website provides links to these various social media outlet, as shown in the United Way website. The social media links are clearly visible, so upon visiting the website, users are invited to “like” the organization on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, subscribe to them on YouTube, and grab their RSS feed to stay updated. Having users connected through various outlets, including websites and social media, is an effective way to keep the interest of customers.

Simplicity

Users get turned off by a cluttered website design. Most of the time, simplicity is the best way to go. A simple website design that doesn’t require users to scroll down very much (or worse, scroll horizontally!), is an effective way to grab users’ attention and invite users to explore the website. Usually, a webpage has only a few seconds to draw the user in, so too many gaudy graphics that take long to load, or too many elements on a page that require a user to scroll down to get information, are easy ways to make a user click the “back” button.

Website design must be intuitive, quick, and convenient for the users. For more examples of what NOT to do when designing a webpage, check out http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/. For more tips on creating an effective website design, check out the PSD page that offers a tutorial on good web design.

#Hashtags on #Television: A Merging of Media

Last night, while watching the premiere of the new season of Food Network’s “Chopped: All-Stars,” I noticed something at the top left corner of the television screen. That something turned out to be a Twitter hashtag for the show, #Chopped. This sparked my interest because seeing that hashtag displayed on the screen showed me how much television was embracing new forms of social media to help promote shows, bring fans of the show together, and have a direct channel for viewers’ opinions. Having the #Chopped hashtag in clear sight encouraged viewers of the show to voice their opinions of the chefs while the show was airing, through Twitter. The “Chopped” judges also shared some input by tweeting with the #Chopped hashtag. In addition, Food Network’s own Twitter account, @FoodNetwork, posted tweets about the show, including cooking tips that the chefs shared, so that viewers could apply these tips to their own cooking.

“Chopped” isn’t the only show that’s embraced social media, however. Another show that has become big on Twitter is one of NBC’s hottest shows, “The Voice.” “The Voice” encourages their viewers to share their thoughts and promote the show via the show hashtag, #TheVoice. While the show airs, a small red bar at the bottom of the television screen is displayed, which features the show hashtag in addition to live tweets from show viewers. Through the show hashtag, viewers of “The Voice” can share their opinions on the singers and the judge’s choices on eliminating and keeping singers in the show. Additionally, the judges themselves share opinions on the singers’ performances by tweeting with the show hashtag.

Although it is no secret that many more television shows have begun embracing Twitter to help promote themselves, “The Voice” and “Chopped” are just a few instances that demonstrate this new merging of different media. Rather than being at odds with each other, television and social media are perfect compliments that both promote the television shows and encourage use of the social media site. Twitter is providing a way to connect viewers and fans to the show in a way that television cannot. Through using the Twitter hashtags, viewers do not need to know the television stars personally to be able to share thoughts on a show. Twitter hashtags provide a way to connect both fans and television show stars alike, and with television show hashtags being taken by storm, viewers now have a means to become a much more influential force in their favorite television shows. How cool is it to have a direct channel where everybody can see your own opinions on a show being viewed by millions? Through Twitter, viewers are being connected to their favorite shows in a way that can elicit real responses. With more and more viewers tweeting about television shows and using the show hashtags, more Twitter users are catching on to these shows, thus increasing ratings and getting more people talking about those shows. With more and more shows encouraging their viewers to tweet, devoted fans are adopting Twitter to help support their favorite shows. By taking the best features of these two forms of media, social media and television are creating a unique, innovative way to connect their viewers. These two forms of media are merging, and this merging of media is creating a wide range of possibilities for social media, television, and the fans and users of each medium.

Facebook as a News Source?

This past Thursday, March 29, the Rio Grande Valley faced one of the severest storms it has seen in years. Six inches of rain flooded the streets, and hail the size of golf balls and baseballs damaged cars and buildings alike.

The storm died out eventually, but the aftermath left clear traces of the storm’s presence the previous night.

The hail damage to the KFC building in McAllen.
The hail storm left the roads icy and slick.
Some of the hail that fell during the storm.

Being from the Valley, this especially worried me. I called my parents the night of the storm and learned that thankfully, their side of the Valley did not take the hit as much as other parts. However, my parents did say that their satellite wasn’t working, so they couldn’t watch the news to check for weather updates. The only means of communication they had, besides the phone, was the Internet. My dad was uploading some photos to Facebook while I was on the phone with him that night. Facebook was still up, running, and very active throughout the storm.

Many cable and satellite networks went out that night, so how did Valley residents stay updated on the storm? The local KRGV Weather channel staff kept up with the storm and updated the KRGV Weather Facebook page to keep Valley residents informed. Through the Facebook page, residents were able to learn about which areas would be affected the most, how severe the storm was in various parts of the Valley, and what measures Valley residents could take to keep their families and their homes safe. Additionally, through the KRGV Weather Facebook page, residents later learned that most school districts across the Valley cancelled classes the following day due to the inclement weather.

The KRGV Weather Facebook page did an outstanding job of keeping the Valley residents updated on the storm and helping to ease a lot of fear. Facebook was one of the few modes of communication still effective during the storm, and the local weather channel took advantage and used Facebook to pass on news about the storm. KRGV’s use of their Facebook page shows that social networking can be used in a way that helps others, much like using Twitter helped release Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan. Using Facebook as a means to deliver news directly to citizens is just another way that social networking is quickly becoming an integral part of our lives. During a storm, cable and satellite can be glitchy, but social-networking sites such as Facebook are a dependable, effective way to connect to users across various locations and connect news and weather centers to residents.

What I especially liked about KRGV Weather’s use of their Facebook page was the fact that I could stay updated on the Valley storm as well. Since I am away in college and am not living in the Valley, I don’t have access to the Valley’s local news and weather channel. I do, however, have access to their Facebook page, regardless of where I am, so I was able to stay informed about the storm by continuously checking for updates on the KRGV Weather Facebook page. Through checking the Facebook page, I learned that the area where my parents were was not being affected as much. KRVG Weather’s use of social networking helped relieve a lot of my worries and reassured me that the people I cared about back home were safe. The many uses of social networking are quickly becoming apparent, and sites like Facebook are becoming important and useful to businesses, news and weather channels, and of course, people like you and me.

“We’re all publishers now, and the more we publish, the more valuable connections we’ll make.” -Pete Cashmore, Founder of Mashable

(Photos courtesy of the KRGV Weather Facebook page.)

Social Media Brings About #SocialChange

Seeing as my last few posts have been mainly about e-books and digital publishing, I decided it was high time to shift gears and explore other aspects of digital writing. That isn’t to say I’ll stop posting about e-books and digital publishing–the field of digital publishing is so multifaceted and ever-changing, that it’s impossible for a bibliophile like me to ever stop reading and writing about that. But for today, a certain trending topic on Twitter has recently caught my attention. Most of us are very familiar with Twitter. We use it on a daily basis, tweeting about subjects ranging from #homework to #ladygaga. But perhaps most of us haven’t thought of Twitter as a vehicle for bringing about social change, as a way to bring attention to social issues.

This is exactly what happened in the case of Khader Adnan, a Palestinian prisoner who was accused of being a part of the Islamic Jihad militant group and was taken prisoner in Israel. Upon being arrested, Adnan went on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment, which was based on Israel’s controversial policy of detaining suspected Palestinian militants for long periods on end, with no charges against them. Adnan was on hunger strike for over two months, until it was finally agreed to have him released on April 17.

But what brought about this decision? A couple of weeks ago, the case of Khader Adnan was relatively obscure and had not been covered by mainstream media, such as news channels. In an effort to bring this story much-needed attention, a group of cyber activists decided to resort to social media. They set up Twitter hashtags and tweeted at least once a day using those hashtags, in the hopes of having a hashtag become a trending topic on Twitter. The hashtags included the prisoner’s name, #KhaderAdnan, and other phrases such as #respect4Khader, #dying2live, and #HungerStrikingfor65Days. Eventually, the activist group did, indeed, achieve their goal, with the hashtag #KhaderAdnan becoming a trending topic on Twitter. The trending topic inevitably caught the media’s attention and triggered the whirlwind of coverage, and subsequently, the decision to release Adnan.

Adnan’s story is just one example of the capacity for social media to bring about social change. Social media has many purposes, and while we may mainly use social media tools such as Twitter to post vintage photos of our dog or tweet about what a rough day we’re having, social media has a substantial role to play in bringing attention to issues we are passionate about. Moreover, we use writing to bring attention to these issues. Social media tools encourage the spread of ideas through the written word (sometimes combined with other media)–except that that written word reaches a much larger crowd. Social media is much more than an outlet for posting our arbitrary thoughts or talking about what we’re doing–it’s an outlet for voicing our opinions on things that matter to us. Social media has an ability to connect users from various locations and time zones and allow these users to have one big, unique conversation (or, a book club–see my “A Perfect Marriage: Social Media and Books” post below), and we have the means to take advantage of this ability and use it to shed light on topics we feel deserve attention. Tools like Twitter, although viewed by some as a mere website people use to idle their time away, is something that, when used for social change, can yield real results. This is one of several stories where social media users have used social media tools to enact change. It’s time we looked at social media as a means to have our voices heard, as a tool that plays a substantial role in society.

“When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place.” –Mark Zuckerberg

A Perfect Marriage: Social Media and Books

Looking back at my title, I see how it can be confusing at first, especially to those who only read the title but don’t read the accompanying blog post. However, I still stand by my cheesy title, because I think it encompasses exactly the event that spurs the writing of this post.

Continuing my exploration on digital media and its effect on the publishing industry, I’ve come across a really interesting story that shows how traditional publishing companies can use these new digital technologies to their advantage.

We all know that Twitter and Facebook have the ability to bring users with common interests together, regardless of location or time zone. The Superbowl was a perfect example, as stated by my fellow writer and digital writing classmate, Alison. Throughout the game, people posted live tweets to keep users updated. (You can read more about social media during the Superbowl on Alison’s post, here.) Twitter brings together people from various places, who have the means to hold a conversation across these time and space barriers, using Twitter hashtags, retweeting, and responding directly to tweets. But now, this unique sort of conversation that Twitter allows users to have is being taken to a whole new level, by none other than the book publishing giant, Penguin Group.

Penguin Group has taken to starting a book club on Twitter, using the hashtag #readpenguin to keep readers connected. Each month, Penguin will announce a book on their Twitter account and invite readers to share their thoughts via the #readpenguin hashtag. At the end of each month, readers will have a chance to hold a conversation with the book’s author, over Twitter. It’s basically a virtual book club. But this time, the book’s author is a guest at the book club. How cool is that?

This book club, in my opinion, really is the perfect marriage between new media and traditional media, between social media and print media. Publishing companies have jumped on the digital bandwagon, embracing the new opportunities that social and digital media provides. Twitter, and other digital and social media, gives publishing companies the chance to reach a much broader, larger audience. Through social media, publishing houses are able to hold book clubs that aren’t limited to a single location and a single time–users across various locations can be a part of the book club and can interact with members of the book club at any moment. Word-of-mouth is taken to a completely different degree, as readers’ thoughts on a book can spread much more quickly and can be received much more effectively. This combination of social media and books can also encourage others to join the book club and read. This new kind of book club is proof that publishing industries aren’t being beaten into obscurity by the advent of digital books and digital media. On the contrary, the best qualities of digital media are augmenting the publishing industry and, quite possibly, encouraging literacy by bridging the gap between social media and books. Perhaps the number of literary devotees (myself included) will grow, as publishing companies begin to embrace digital media and its advantages.

Nota bene: For anyone who is interested in joining Penguin’s book club, you can follow Penguin Group on Twitter via @penguinusa. The book for this month is called The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown.

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.” –Henry David Thoreau

Digital Writing: Re-Defining Writing and the Writing Classroom

What is digital writing? How has it changed the writing process? How does it change our view of writing?

Writing has come a long way since its days of the stylus and clay tablet, quill and parchment, and typewriter. Digital innovations such as word processors, desktop publishing software, and even things like smartphones that can connect to the Internet have all helped to redefine writing, and specifically digital writing. Because Digital Writing Matters defines digital writing as “the dramatic changes in the ecology of writing and communication and, indeed, what it means to write — to create and compose and share.”

Digital writing is providing infinite possibilities for writers. Any writer, and anyone, for that matter, can have writing published by means of digital tools such as blogging software or social media websites like Twitter. Knowledge, ideas, and opinions are spread much faster and reach much more people because digital innovations have made it possible. And, let’s not forget how word processors such as Microsoft Word and desktop publishing software such as Adobe InDesign have made producing quality documents much more convenient, and in some cases, a more feasible endeavor. With the advent of word processors, it is no longer costly and time-consuming for writers to fix errors on a typewriter; word processors allow for continual revision, altering the writing and editing process. Moreover, features like spell-check and grammar check help catch errors writers may not, helping to ensure the production of a quality written document. Because of the convenience brought on by word processors, writers no longer need to consider external factors affecting the cost and time to produce a written document; they can simply focus on the writing itself. Desktop publishing software has brought on benefits of its own. Programs such as InDesign broaden the scope of composing, allowing a writer to incorporate graphics and other elements into a document to help communicate his or her message. Content-based website builders have helped reshape the role of the writer, also making writers website builders and designers. These new roles for writers require a writer to understand his or her audience and understand how to appeal and communicate to that audience.

In addition, digital writing has also slowly begun to take shape in classrooms. As a Professional Writing major, I can personally attest to this. Because Digital Writing Matters has listed various practices that improve writers’ development, such as:

  • Reinforcing the writing process–teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their work; encouraging the practice of community-based writing; giving, receiving, and using feedback and peer review
  • “Studying the craft of writing, including analyzing how texts in different media are designed and how they function across genres, purposes, and discourse communities” (DeVoss, et al., 2010).
  • “Helping students analyze and understand the rhetorical situation for their writing, including how to think about audience, clarify purpose, and work with form and stance in order to cultivate in students the flexibility and strategic thinking that help them address new occasions for writing” (DeVoss, et al., 2010).

These practices have definitely been present in writing classrooms. Many of the writing classes I have taken have been project-based, providing opportunities to develop community-based writing skills and collaborative skills through group writing projects. In these group writing projects, one of the main challenges was to take several different styles of writing and produce a cohesive piece that sounded as though it was written by one person, that did not sound as though the various writing styles were competing with each other. These group projects were also usually semester-long projects, and my professors always encouraged the use of digital tools such as Gantt charts to keep track of our team’s progress on the project, and programs such as Google docs to have one place where team members would submit every project document and have way to share and revise without the messiness of emailing back and forth.

Even methods of submitting documents in the classroom became digitized. In my technical writing class, the class used an online discussion board to submit documents. We could access and view everyone’s submitted document through this discussion board, and during peer review, we would share our comments via this discussion board. The discussion board encouraged students to give and receive feedback, learn from their peers, and grow as writers.

Many of my writing professors also incorporated document design into their curriculum, which required the use of programs such as InDesign and an understanding of how to complement writing with design elements. Moreover, many of my class projects required the construction of a website. Learning to use content-based website builders, such as WordPress, and write and design for an online audience required an understanding of the rhetorical situation–of my audience and purpose, and use of writing and design elements to appeal to that audience. These methods taught students to adapt their style to the appropriate rhetorical situation and effectively capture their audience. Additionally, it allowed students to learn how various texts are designed for various purposes and media.

Incorporating digital tools with writing, both in and out of the classroom, has re-defined the role of the writer, the way students learn writing, and the ways in which writers communicate their message. Writers are no longer classified as the solitary figure with a pen and paper; writers are now instruments for spreading ideas and effecting change. Through digital writing, this has become more possible than ever.

“When I stop working the rest of the day is posthumous. I’m only really alive when I’m writing.” –Tennessee Williams