I Need my Space

Sometimes you just need a little space. David Seigel popularized the spacer image in his book, “Creating Killer Web Sites” but it’s flagrant abuse led to his apologizing later. The spacer image, used correctly, can be extremely useful. Much of the abusive use of the spacer image has died with the incorporation of style sheets which give designers more control over text spacing.

The spacer image is a 1 pixel by 1 pixel transparent image that can be used to control spacing with a great deal of accuracy across browsers. By specify the hspace (horizontal space) and vspace (vertical space) attributes, you can:

create space around text or graphics

or control table cell width.

The actual spacer image tag used used to create the purple column looks like this:
<img src=”spacer.gif” alt=”spacer image for the article” width=”1″ height=”1″ hspace=”10″ vspace=”10″ border=”0″ align=”top”>

By changing the “hspace” attribute I control how wide each table cell will be. The “hspace” value is applied equally to the right and left of the image, so the amount of total space is double the value (in this case the table cell is 21 pixels — 10 hspace + 10 hspace + 1 pixel image width).

The vspace attribute is this example is set to “10” to control the height of the table cell. And again that adds 10 pixels above and 10 pixels below for a total height of 21 pixels.

You can create your own spacer image in any web graphics program. Simply create an image 1 pixel wide by 1 pixel tall, fill the inside with a solid color and then save it as a gif 89A image and make the fill color transparent.

Or you can simply save the image inside the square border below to your computer by clicking on the image and choosing “Save Image as” or “Save this Image as”.

You will have to fiddle with the “hspace” and “vspace” attributes to get the spacing effect you need. I find the spacer image particularly useful when I want to increase the space between page elements. The spacer image allows much greater control and accuracy than say adding break tags (<br>). You can also create some interesting vertical and horizontal bar effects by modifying the actual width and height, however, I recommend using horizontal rules or the vertical rules techniques found inside this issue.

But the next time you need a little space, you’ll have it at your command.

Tips for Working with Your Web Design Team

To get the most for your web project dollars, you need a good working relationship with your web site design team. Clear communication, a sense of trust between parties, and everyone is working towards the same goals makes all the difference in results.

What the Design Team Needs from the Client

Cooperation.
You hired the design team for it’s knowledge, talent and skill. You should trust your design team to know their business. If your design team recommends that you cut your site text by 50%, try it. If they ask for complete product pricing schedule, provide it in a timely fashion. If they ask for a site review meeting and sign off before proceeding, schedule the meeting and be prepared to make the necessary final decisions. Don’t ask them to make your site look exactly like another site. They should be trying to make your business have it’s own identity.
Information.
Lots of clear information. If you’re working with a good design team, you may mistake them for the 60-Minutes investigation squad. Be prepared to explain clearly, completely and carefully, your web site goals, your budget limitations and your business. Even if you write your own copy and provide it to the designer, be prepared for suggested edits, changes and the request for more information. Be prepared to be specific and complete in your information. These folks know that people online want details, and they want them now. The design team is working to convey the necessary information to your best advantage. don’t hide information from them. If there are any restrictions, limitations, special cases or requirements for products or services, be sure the design team knows about them well in advance. It’s much more expensive to have to fix the consequences of bad information.
Answers.
When the design team requests feedback or answers, they deserve prompt, courteous replies. Take their phone calls, answer their emails. Give them your time and attention. Think of them as your number one sales person, because that’s what your web site is.
Questions.
If there’s something you don’t understand, ask about it. Do you want to know why they chose certain colors or images or organizational structure? Ask. Politely. They may be working under a misunderstanding or you may not see the whole picture. If they’re answers don’t match the fundamental principles of good web design, ask them why. And they can’t give you answers that makes sense, then…
Communication.
Talk with your account contact and express your concerns — again politely. If you like the work you’re seeing, tell them that, too. Make sure the design team feels the lines of communication are genuinely open. This keeps you in the loop in the event problems arise or new opportunities become available.
Payment.
Set up a payment schedule and agreement and then follow it. If you’ve approved of a design and want changes later, be prepared to pay for them. If you said you’d pay for a font, graphics package, software or other materials for development, don’t quibble when the bill arrives. Don’t try to cheat your design team of valuable time or services. It’s not worth the bad feelings later when you call them for additional help. And trust me, you willcall for additional help. If nothing else, think abou the fact that they know all about your site’s structure, hosting setup and Internet access. They know all about your company and your audience. It’s like the guys who install your office locks, you don’t want to tick ’em off.

Most importantly, make certain the design team knows you are interested in the project — without feeling like you’re trying to tell them their business. Don’t be the “ghost client” who “disappears” after the project starts. And don’t become the “Control-Freak client” insisting on approval of every sentence, graphic or tag. Sure, you may just smile, nod and contemplate how well your daughter’s doing in little league as the designers eagerly explain how they used a relational style sheet to optimize for the aging population of your target audience. But they’ll know you’ll keeping and eye on the project and feel your support — which just might get your site a little extra effort.

Selecting a Web Designer

Like any good business relationship, the one between web designer and client should be built on trust. A client should be able to trust the web designer to work with the client’s best interest in mind, not the web designer’s, and to be competent and knowledgeable about web design and development.

If you are considering hiring a web designer to develop or re-design your site, don’t simply look for the cheapest. If you make “cheap” your primary or only criteria for web development, you deserve what you get — which will probably make you, and your business, look cheap! Check out examples of the designer’s other work. If nothing else, the designer should be able to present a high-quality site for his or her own business. Don’t look for flashy cutting-edge techniques unless that’s directly related to yourbusiness. You’re looking for evidence of competence and an understanding of web useability, professional design skills, and effective communication both visually and verbally.

Look at the top companies or organizations in your industry or field. You should aspire to look like the best in your field. You would never go dirty and ungroomed to a financial meeting; neither should your web site.

Signs of web design incompetence include:

  • Blink tag use (If they’re using the blink tag on their business site for any reason except as a bad example, run away!)
  • Excessive use of animation
  • Plugin or special browser requirements for the Home page or critical information
  • Use of tiled, pattern backgrounds
  • Low-quality graphic images
  • Use of low-quality images for things like email addresses, buttons, bullets or line rules
  • Coding mistakes such as missing tags, images overlapping the text or styles tags that were never closed (e.g., all of the text after a certain point is in bold or italics)
  • Inconsistent use of header tags instead of correct use of changes in font style or color to consistently represent a specific kind of information.
  • Hand-coding each tag style instead of using style sheets or inline styles. (They aren’t keeping up with the technology and standards and are likely to have control conflicts.)
  • Crowded, busy pages that are difficult to read or find information on

Other questions to answer from the designer’s site and client list:

  • What kind of client are they targeting?
  • Has the designer put the client’s best interest ahead of his or her own? (e.g., were appropriate technology and techniques used to reach the client’s audience or did the designer push cutting-edge techniques to showcase his or her skills to his or her potential clients?)
  • Does the designer’s web site and the client sites look high-quality?
  • Is the site navigation and useability clear and appears well tested? Did you have any problems understanding how to get around the site or finding the information you needed?
  • Did you like the look-and-feel of the designer’s site and the client sites?

And finally, don’t be afraid of hiring a new designer, especially if you’re cost-conscious, so long as the designer demonstrates competence and skill. If money is tight, you might also look at hiring a designer to create your home page and internal page templates and then learning enough HTML to maintain and develop the rest of the site in-house. What you are paying for is graphic design skills, web useability knowledge and viable Internet solutions to your business needs. If all you are getting is someone who read a book on HTML coding and has a package of “web graphics”, don’t waste your money or your time. There are web development programs that can write the code. It takes talent to design an effective site. You want to spend your money on the talent.If a web design business is based on “volume selling”, how much personal attention can they really give you and your specific business needs? How skilled can their designers really be? Think about it.