Standards of the Art of Designing Websites, Deah Style

16 Feb 2018

Probably the least discussed factor of designing website is the rationale that goes into every decision, from color palette to font style, from rules on what photos can be used and in what way to content and title editing, and more. While these decisions can seem arbitrary and solely personal preference – and many are just that – most decisions do have standards of good practice behind them. But most clients don’t know what those standards are.


Neither do all website developers, which accounts for some pretty bad websites.


This is where I’m thankful everyday for my training and many years of experience in the journalistic writing, layout and design of newspapers.  And here’s a bit of what standards I follow when creating websites for my clients.


Photo Standards


It’s entirely true that a picture is worth a thousand words – but only when used according to some basic rules, which are:


  • Being in focus and in well balanced lighting is paramount

  • Displayed in appropriate size is required

  • Telling a story is important

  • Evoking emotion is useful

  • Prompting an action is helpful

  • Not being just a mass of unknown people

  • Not being just a mass of random objects

  • Must fit the dimensions of the desired space

  • Distracting background should be removed or masked

  • Photo colors must not clash with website’s color palette

  • Photos on websites need SEO alt tags

  • Website color palette may be dictated by the colors of your logo


When you submit photos and other artwork to your designer, be sure to include your source. Many designers, including me, won’t allow photos taken from Google Images to be used. This is because we don’t know who owns the copyright and whether you have the appropriate license to use them. This refusal protects you and your designer from getting slammed with a high penalty from companies like Getty for copyright infringement.


Be sure to either take photos yourself, or get them from an online stock photo outlet. Some of these outlets are free, and others are very reasonably priced.


If you do take photos of other people, it’s wise to get them to sign a release for the use of their photo in your marketing materials (which includes your website and social media). Don’t be surprised if your designer asks to see these releases.


Selfies as Professional Photo


There is nothing wrong with taking a selfie to use as our official business photo. But here too there are some guidelines that will produce a better than average, nearly professional quality shot. Any relatively recent cell phone with a camera function is likely to take high quality photos, but they can’t do the whole job alone. Here’s what you need to do:


  • Make sure you have very good lightening around you

  • Have lighting from both sides to reduce shadows

  • Hold the phone at arm’s length

  • Check what’s behind you, remove all but a plain wall, preferably a white wall

  • Stand, don’t sit -- unless on a backless stool

  • Wear a face flattering shirt

  • Concentrate photo framing on head and shoulders only

  • Take photos from both sides of your face, then pick your best side

  • Smile from your eyes as much as your lips

  • Minimize teeth in your smile

  • Be conservative with makeup

  • Stand in your own power – don’t invite others into your business photo


Hire someone from to perfect your photos to ensure the best professional image of yourself, and to remove any distracting accidental background material or to provide the transparent background that website designers love. Might cost 10-15 bucks and will be well worth five times that much.


Video Standards


Here again, cell phone video quality is getting better and better. But as with the standards for selfies above, there are some important and useful rules to observe. If you are taking video of a speaker, be sure you are close enough to them to minimize echo and get clear facial expressions.


If taking video of your office, move s-l-o-w-l-y. A video that pans (moves in a circle or side to side) too quickly tends to make a lot of people nauseous.


Invest in a tripod if you plan to do a lot of videos with your phone to minimize or eliminate shaky amateur quality.



Content Standards


I may be overly invested in the impression you / your website makes through the written word – that’s the consequence of still having a journalist’s mindset towards all writing. So I am going to take the liberty of correcting your grammar, spelling, syntax, punctuation, and typos. If English is not your first language, have someone who is fluent in your native tongue, and in English, proofread for you.


Additionally, I will often edit your marketing message and other pages so that they are clear, succinct, emotionally compelling, and encourage conversion from visitor to client, or from skimming to donating if that’s the purpose of your site. Ask your designer if they provide that service as a normal part of their fee.


When writing for a website, it’s best to keep in mind these things:


  • Most people read at a 5th grade level – keep it simple!

  • When stressed, even the highly educated prefer simple short sentences

  • Most people are susceptible to well crafted emotional appeal

  • Most people skim websites, skipping long paragraphs

  • Most people appreciate bullet lists

  • Website visitors search for specific purposes

  • Visitors are looking for answers to search questions

  • Answers must be clear and attention grabbing


Beyond these technical basics of good writing for marketing purposes, keep in mind that the internet is a very casual atmosphere. I mean, it’s not a global doctoral dissertation. There is no need to sound stuffy, impersonal, and cold.


Writing in the 3rd person tense just makes us sound disconnected from our own businesses at best, and at worst we come off sounding like a snob. This is not a good way to attract clients and donors.


It’s best to allow your writing to sound friendly, warm, and helpful – just like you want to be in person with a new client. Be careful with humor, but do let your personality come through your writing. It’s usually best to:


  • Use I, we, and you

  • Don’t refer to yourself as she or he

  • Write as if talking to a friend

  • Limit generational or cultural jargon unless it fits your niche

  • Informally explain uncommon terms

  • Limit expounding on all your credentials – most people don’t care

  • Focus on the experiential difference you can make for your clients

  • Read what you’ve written as if you are your own client


Finally, if the APA Style Guide nightmares of your academic years are still forcing you to provide citations for every thought you include that someone else at some point in world history may have originated – and really, please don’t do that on your website – full name, and title of work or affiliated employer, is quite enough. No need for year, publisher, and page number. Examples:



If possible, it’s always appreciated by website visitors when source citations are turned into hotlinks. As a website designer, I appreciate it when my clients provide the links so I don’t risk getting lost in Cyberland looking stuff up.





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Why I've Retired

It's possible this will come as a surprise to you -- it certainly has snuck on me that I'm well past retirement age. Over the last year or so, my heart has been pulled in other directions, and while I still love the creative aspects of website design, I want to use my time making a life rather than devoting my energies to making a living. So I plan to travel, attend writers' retreats, work on learning to take good iPhone photos, and just be open to where my spirit guides take me. I have also stepped back from my esoteric work for 2020, and who knows what the future holds for that.

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