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Our Web Design Philosophy

Web design is far more than a graphic design adorned with hyperlinks. A web site is a machine for finding knowledge; a tool for communication, interaction, commerce, and discovery. Each part of that machine should speak to a well-defined audience and serve a useful purpose. The moving parts may be digital, but the form and function must be as clearly defined as the components of a building, an automobile, or a computer.

Specific Impulse takes great care to produce sites that work both functionally and effectively. While we know all the latest DHTML tricks and techniques, we are more concerned with usability and clean design than "eye candy" that detracts from the business of the site. This is not to say that web designs should not be beautiful, or exciting, or evocative. But a design must first and foremost fulfill its purpose for its intended audience.

We use a modular, structured, and highly-planned design methodology. Our approach has been refined over many years of designing and implementing efficient and maintainable corporate site structures composed of thousands of pages, usually database-driven.

Our initial designs take into consideration the teachings and practices of cognitive science and practical studies in information architecture and web site usability. For example, we know that broad hierarchies of over 7 topics per page and deep hierarchies of over 7 levels are difficult for the user to navigate and comprehend.

Some companies organize their information hierarchies based on how that information is stored, not by what the user would be thinking about. For example, a site designed for a major software company had hundreds of online documents organized like a library, indexed by release number. That was the way they developed the documents, not the way the users wanted to look them up. We provided alternative hierarchies, including lookup by platform, product, and task (Are you maintaining a database? Are you programming an application?) that enabled users to quickly find what they were looking for.

We also take care to provide clear labels and signposts so that users can quickly discern where to go in your site, and we analyze who your audiences are and what their needs would be. In this way we can direct, for example, clients down one path, job candidates down another, and investors or partners down yet another path, while still giving them a clear understanding of the whole site hierarchy.

When we design a site we take into consideration that the pages must be maintained over time. The goal is to develop for the long run: anticipating changes, updates, and maintenance for ease and cost effectiveness. One way we do this is by taking the time to develop a cascading style sheet to control the font faces, sizes, colors, and positioning throughout the site. Style sheets enable you to change, in a single place, the way the text looks throughout the site.

For example, a marketing manager thought she'd like to make all first-level headings Arial/Helvetica blue 18 point, all second-level headings 12 point, and make all the body text Times New Roman 10 point indented 30 pixels. Instead of editing all the pages on the site, we set up a master stylesheet and encoded all the text on the site with the style tags. Then when she wanted to make a font change, she said "let's try darker headings" and we said, "OK, hold on a second, there, what do you think?" The change instantly propagated throughout the site, so she could now make centralized changes in minutes.

We also use techniques like separating content from the layout templates, creating re-usable code libraries (modular design), centralizing Javascript functions, using server-side includes in application interfaces, and other elements of good, object-oriented, well-planned web site development designed for ease of maintenance and debugging.

Finally, we run extensive tests using both manual techniques and automated site-checking tools that detect slow pages, broken hyperlinks, missing images, and so forth. Our QA lab includes Windows, Macintosh, and Linux machines. This assures that all users will see the site as you intend, and provides seamless portability if you change hosting platforms.

 
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