Category Archives: web design

Shame on Google

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

So it seems Google—that search engine magnate labeled the most powerful brand in the world—doesn’t feel the need to compensate its creative talent.

Last week, The New York Times wrote of Google’s invitation to prominent artists to contribute artwork for its new Google Chrome browser.

Compensation? None.

Understandably, many of these artists felt somewhat hung out to dry. And, admirably, as much as they’d love Google’s exposure, many rejected it with outspoken opinions.

How does that relate to us and our work of communicating Christ?

Certainly, it doesn’t, right? After all, our churches don’t have the multi-billion dollar income of Google’s. Nor do we share its wordly mission. The church is excluded from respecting the work of creatives because, after all, it’s for the Lord, right?

Wrong.

God blesses people with creative talents, of which many use  to earn a living. They study their craft and spend great time developing it. Their work, known as intellectual property, deserves respect. God also commands us to respect our nation’s laws and says,  “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men…” (1 Peter 2:13).

Here are a few things to keep in mind, as we show Christian respect to creatives and our laws.

  • Graphic design, illustrations, photography, music and written words are all exclusively owned by their creators, including those posted on the Internet. To use them without permission violates the U.S. Copyright Law. It’s stealing.
  • Fair Use, a section of the copyright law, offers a little leeway. However, it’s very ambiguous and contextual, and churches shouldn’t feel it offers complete exemption from the law. Church Marketing Sucks posted an interesting discussion on how it applies to religious organizations.
  • Professionals work hard to create their craft. Just as a church compensates a plumber or electrician, so should it compensate a professional artist.
  • Many professionals donate projects out of love for God and their church. Pro-bono, however, does not mean “no value, no time or no effort.” Creative work can command $50-150/hr., elsewhere. Respect this work. Respect the professional’s time, just as you would someone you were paying.
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An Up-to-Date Website: Accessibility

When it comes to today’s websites, of the Three A’s (Audience, Application, Accessibility), perhaps accessibility is most important. No matter who your audience is or how well you’ve applied good elements, if your website is inaccessible, it serves no purpose.

Accessibility
We hear this word all the time these days. What’s it mean?

Accessibility means making your website accessible, or viewable, to as many people possible, no matter what browser or device they’re using.

The internet isn’t just for computers anymore. According to The Kelsey Group, almost 40 percent of users of mobile devices such as ipods, iphones and Blackberries are using them to access the internet. And you don’t have to live under a rock to know mobile devices are commonplace to anyone under the age of 50.

As Christians, there’s another online presence we should consider: those with disabilities using special browsers to accommodate their needs. Many of our old ways of designing, such as frames and outdated coding, are inaccessible to people using such browsers.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) offers extremely detailed instructions for online accessibility. In reality, this reads a bit like Greek to most of us. Here are a few basics, however, to get you started:

Limit Flash
Flash is fancy. Flash is fun. And nowadays most computers can handle it. But mobile devices and many browsers for visually impaired viewers still cannot. Use Flash as an accessory but never for vital content.

Think scrolling
Mobile device screens utilize lots of vertical scrolling. Now’s the time to get rid of that introductory splash page and your wide width dimensions. If you’re designing specifically for mobile devices, downsize your site to a width of 320 pixels and put your best and most sought after information at the top of the page.

Use semantic code (at least HTML 4.0 Transitional)
Sorry folks, Word, Publisher and FrontPage just don’t cut it. These are not reliable web design programs and the code they deliver do not meet today’s standards. Learn to code. Use a true WYSIWYG program such as Dreamweaver.

Does all this seem too complicated?

Well, sometimes it might just make more sense to consider a professional. Let them do what they’re good at, so you have time to do what you’re good at.

An Up-to-Date Website: Application

Reaching your audience is crucial to keeping your audience. This applies even more to the internet, where our attentions are pulled in so many directions. The second of the three A’s (Audience, Application and Accessibility) shows how a few design and content elements make a huge difference in reaching your audience. While specific audiences require specific applications, there are some commonalities that work for all. Let’s look at those today.

Show, don’t tell
Yes, we’re reading more and more words online these days—on Facebook, blogs and Twitter, that is. When it comes to websites, however, a picture still says more than a thousand words. Don’t tell viewers your church focuses on youth. Instead, show it focuses on youth. Show images of young people on your home page. Use images liberally. Edit your text liberally.

3-click navigation
The same two rules apply today as in the past: Keep navigation simple and use the 3-click rule. Users should be able to go anywhere on your site within three clicks.

Use the right font
San serif fonts, namely Arial and Verdana, have long been the preferred choice for online reading. Without tails at the end of each letter, they present the easiest reading from a computer screen (as opposed to serif fonts which are the easiest to read on a printed page).

But times are-a-changing! We now have Georgia, a serif font developed specifically for the web. This is an easy-to-read screen font and has become very popular in today’s websites, including this blog.

Frequent content updates
The days of putting a website online and never touching it again are over. Viewers now want updates and they want them often. An outdated, old-news website is an absolute no-no. Many designers now create sites with owner content management systems (CMS), thus enabling church personnel to easily update their own information.

So, now you’ve applied design and content elements that reach your audience. Next, we’ll make sure your site is accessible to your audience.

Three Things for an Up-To-Date Website (You do have one, don’t you?)

Asking if you have a website is hopefully a needless question. Being without one is comparable to Jonah refusing to go to Nineveh—if that’s the case, you really should consider life inside a whale for wasting such a God-given opportunity.

That said, what makes a good website for today’s online presence? Think three A’s:  Audience, Application and Accessibility.

Audience

Identifying your audience is a crucial first step. It determines the look of your site and the message you want to convey. But let’s back up: In order to identify your audience, you must also identify your goals. Here are some possibilities:

Church promotion
If your goal is to promote your church, to whom are you targeting the promotion? Potential new members from the community? Families? Professionals? Tourists passing through? Your website style and content should match that of your audience and their needs.

Member communication
Is your primary goal to unify your membership? Nurture their faith? Increase their awareness of what’s happening at church? If so, who are your members? What are their ages, their careers, interests and life situations? For mechanical purposes, what are their online capabilities? Are they tech savvy? Do they have high speed internet?

Outreach
Now, more than ever, the internet offers the widest, quickest access to the greatest masses. Is spreading the gospel is one of your website goals? If so, the world is your audience and you must assume zero faith knowledge. No shop talk allowed!

That’s it for now. Next we’ll look at applying design and content elements to reach your audience.