Contract - October 2010 - (Page 50)

practice the office that never closes A powerful Web site can reach out dynamically, effectively, and entertainingly so the world can reach back By Holly Richmond What is it that makes a good Web site great? What captures people’s attention? Most of all, what entices users to linger longer, learn more, and ultimately choose your firm to fulfill their design needs? Of course it isn’t just one thing; it is many factors that synchronize at the precise moment to make future clients say “yes” rather than closing the virtual window, perhaps forever. To get to the heart of the matter (yes, emotions are just as involved as technology), we sought advice from three firms, all of which have won “Best Architecture Web site” awards from the prestigious Web Marketing Association. To begin, let us again touch on the critical time component of searching the Internet. While clichés are so, well, cliché, in this case, what they say is true: “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Steven Yates, director of communications for New York-based Perkins Eastman, follows the four-second rule. “Research shows that within four seconds users can comprehend who you are from your home page,” he explains. “Therefore, our first step is to make an impact that delivers an accurate impression of our firm, while intuiting what the user wants. Our goal then is to help them quickly find information, ultimately in an entertaining way.” The way in which the plethora of information on a home page efficiently syncs with users is through the strategic and aesthetically exacting utilization of both images and text. For design firms, stunning visuals rule, but it also is crucial to provide comprehensive information specific to the project from which the image was taken. “A great Web site doesn’t just showcase a firm’s projects, it demonstrates its depth as well,” says Jennifer Parks, senior producer for Larsen, a Minneapolisbased design, branding, marketing, and interactive firm. She believes the type of technology a firm chooses to use on its Web site, such as drop-down menus verses a narrative layering of images and text, or HTML verses Flash, is a personal choice, though one that must be based on what its users prefer. “The visuals must work in harmony to create an emotional reaction to a project so that a potential client would say, ‘I want to work there,’ or ‘I want to dine there.’ The Web site as a holistic entity must provide the best, most concise information to help them make informed decisions,” she concludes. Tim Larsen, founder and president of Larsen, agrees with Parks, adding, “For architects, a Web site must be beautiful, easy to navigate, and showcase a contextual representation of the firm’s work. Play up the company you keep; put the major projects people will recognize on your home page.” However, beyond name or brand recognition, Larsen also believes that the visuals and navigational interface must communicate a human feeling, engaging the user with the firm’s identity. The Larsen design team helps architecture and design firms successfully meet this challenge by paying great attention to detail in a simple way (i.e. the crop of images, transitioning of graphics, or subtlety of a corporate logo. Reid Durbin, Larsen’s director of interactive development, is charged daily with helping Web site users seamlessly navigate, which includes being able to access a Web site from any device, as well as implementing a full custom content management system that allows design firms to constantly add and remove images and text from the Web site. “As users get into a site, the portfolio or projects page is where they spend the most time. The images speak volumes, and they must be able to be enlarged, cropped, and printed, and show CAD drawings where applicable. It is essential to anticipate your users’ every need,” Durbin remarks. How do you, as a design firm, do this successfully? In two words: Web analytics. Do your research, know your user base, and do not be afraid to make changes, because in the Interactive environment things change quickly. Web sites for today’s design firms should be contemplated weekly, if not daily, in order to craft a holistic perception—an identity—that matches what users and the firm’s employees know to be true. Of course, this is constantly evolving, as more projects are completed. Michael Jones, public relations manager for WHR Architects based in Houston, states, “Our Web site is not an afterthought to our success as a firm; it is a priority. It is our 24-hour-a-day office; it’s how the world reaches us, and we reach back.” He and WHR principal Amy Lopez, IIDA, AAHID, also believe social media outlets play a part in the firm’s success by utilizing multiple channels and multiple layers of information from Twitter to MySpace to Facebook. “These are also great tools for recruiting,” Lopez says. “It tells potential team members who we are, our corporate culture, and how we thrive in today’s tech savvy design world.” To build a successful online presence, design firms first must be willing to perceive their Web site as a work in progress; it cannot be stagnant and thus must not serve as an electronic brochure in the traditional way we think about delivering information. Users should notice changes often, which is something a brochure has never been able to offer. And, just because this is new media and the technological power is available, simplicity and consistency still reign supreme. Yates of Perkins Eastman concludes, “We do not get too mired in what is possible with technology. You don’t have to show it all to show it well.” 50 contract october 2010

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Contract - October 2010

Contract - October 2010
Editor's Note
Focus: What's Next
Focus: A New Conversation
Materials: Cork and Circumstances
Green: Net Zero
Practice: The Office That Never Closes
Splashy and Sustainable
The Art of Healthcare Design
Best Foot Forward
Harmonious and Healthy
Of Sea and Stone
Live Long and Prosper
Trends: From Illness Care to Wellness Care
Process: On the Front Line
Designers Rate
Ad Index

Contract - October 2010