What makes a great woodworking website?


adamking

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I'm getting ready to re-brand my furniture studio and that means rethinking the design of Adam King Studio. I don't like it as it is. It needs a major overhaul. So, that's led me to sit down and really consider what makes a great site for showing and selling handmade furniture? What features should be included, and what can be eliminated? Are there certain colors to look at? What kind of a layout would allow me to show my furniture off in the best way possible?

What do you all think?

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I'm a web developer during the day, so I can share from that side.

  1. The page needs to load fast.
  2. keep pages simple. Content is king, don't let a pages graphical design get in the way of content presentation.
  3. Make the content easy to find, in other words have a good menu or sidebar system.

I'm getting ready to re-brand my furniture studio and that means rethinking the design of Adam King Studio. I don't like it as it is. It needs a major overhaul. So, that's led me to sit down and really consider what makes a great site for showing and selling handmade furniture? What features should be included, and what can be eliminated? Are there certain colors to look at? What kind of a layout would allow me to show my furniture off in the best way possible?

What do you all think?

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That's what I'm thinking about as well. I have two sites in the works and I'm working with a web designer and my wife who is a graphic artist. I've been showings them parts of web sites that I do like, colors, layout etc. Hopefully a couple of nice sites will come from it, I'm not in a rush so I've been taking time to research and explore ideas. It's really not an easy task for my wife & designer because I want the sites to be a extension of me and my work. I guess I'm tough to work for ;-)

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Ok. good thoughts, but what about the specifics like the experience your perfect customer has with the site? Should it be lots of images with very little text? Should there be a sidebar? If so, what's the content? Should there be more text than images? What's a good color scheme and should the portfolio be prominent? Also what types of plugin or addons would improve or detract from the site?

These are the questions that need exploring. At least for me. What about you all?

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Agreed! Though I would say its less about which you need more of (text/photos) and more about keeping them where they belong. With a portfolio, the photos should do almost all of the talking, though, on a contact page or an "about me" page, you don't want to clutter the information with photos. The only other thing I could think of is that if you are going to customize icons at all (Rss feed, twitter, linked in) I would say customize them to look like the rest of your branding (all white with solid black or red lettering). The woodgrain icons look awesome, but a bit out of place in contrast. If the borders of the page were wood grain, that would be a different story. Everything I read about building a website and a brand stresses the importance of a consistent image.

This is all just in my humble opinion. Keep up the great work Adam!

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ok, now that I have a little time to expand my thoughts:

I'm a web developer (Ok techinically I'm the boss, but I still get my hands dirty), and since that term is so skewed these days I'll explain what that means. I'm responsible for server side development (Perl, Php, MySql, Oracle, Apache), and browser side development (HTML, css, JavaScript, and more recently flash). Imo the things a developer can do to improve user experience are as follows.

  1. make the page load fast.
    1. Make sure the code on the server (if any) is clean and fast.
    2. keep the number of files per page, and file sizes as low as possible.
      1. Make the html work across several browsers/OS/platform combination
      1. MLB.com is a good example of what not to do, 199 files/1.9mb to render the frontpage
      2. google.com is a little 2 far to the other extreme 9 files/86.kb
      3. at work we try and keep pages under 30 files and 400kb for normal pages and high traffic pages under 20 files, 250kb
        1. keep screen resolution in mind, 1024x768 is still ~25% of the people on the internet, flexible width design is nice
        2. Don't let the graphical designers go off the deep end. Things that should only be done in moderation
        3. drop shadows
        4. rounded corners
        5. massive background images
        6. special non standard fonts

The graphical design part of my brain doesn't work so well, so I will just list what i like.

  1. white space needs to be balanced, crammed fool is bad, and so is to much white space.
  2. keep color contrast moderate, Lots of bright colors on a white background is hard to read
  3. I like the little things that add to the page, but don't distract from the content, take this page for example
  4. the back ground image isn't over bearing
  5. the font contrast is pleasing to me
  6. the price tag logo is a nice touch
  7. This looks like a front page design, and all the imagery has the same feel.

with all that being said, I would do the following you do the following.

  1. a blog section, it keeps people coming back to your site
  2. contact form/info page
  3. a decent about page
  4. a products section with sub categories if needed
  5. products page with details like
  6. size
  7. cost
  8. finish choices
  9. care instructions
  10. wood choices
  11. a paragraph or two of marketing about the piece
  12. a nice light box gallery of images with options to view larger images and a range of shots like stand offs, and detail shots.
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Agreed! Though I would say its less about which you need more of (text/photos) and more about keeping them where they belong. With a portfolio, the photos should do almost all of the talking, though, on a contact page or an "about me" page, you don't want to clutter the information with photos. The only other thing I could think of is that if you are going to customize icons at all (Rss feed, twitter, linked in) I would say customize them to look like the rest of your branding (all white with solid black or red lettering). The woodgrain icons look awesome, but a bit out of place in contrast. If the borders of the page were wood grain, that would be a different story. Everything I read about building a website and a brand stresses the importance of a consistent image.

This is all just in my humble opinion. Keep up the great work Adam!

I was hoping you would jump in on this. I agree about consistency. The overall customer experience and intended actions are at the heart of my redesign. Overall objective is making sales right from the site. So, every decision needs to be made with that end goal for that end user in mind. Great input. thanks.

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with all that being said, I would do the following you do the following.

  1. a blog section, it keeps people coming back to your site
  2. contact form/info page
  3. a decent about page
  4. a products section with sub categories if needed
  5. products page with details like
    1. size
    2. cost
    3. finish choices
    4. care instructions
    5. wood choices
    6. a paragraph or two of marketing about the piece
    7. a nice light box gallery of images with options to view larger images and a range of shots like stand offs, and detail shots.

Wow. I love that you weighed in on the technical aspects of this. I think it's proof that if you're going to do it right, hire the pros. DIY can only take you so far and it's rarely as far as you desire to go. Thanks

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NP, I apologize for the typos/grammatical mistakes, writing isn't my strong suit. :D

Wow. I love that you weighed in on the technical aspects of this. I think it's proof that if you're going to do it right, hire the pros. DIY can only take you so far and it's rarely as far as you desire to go. Thanks

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I was hoping you would jump in on this. I agree about consistency. The overall customer experience and intended actions are at the heart of my redesign. Overall objective is making sales right from the site. So, every decision needs to be made with that end goal for that end user in mind. Great input. thanks.

Most definitely. Quite a lot of people start a website because "uhh I guess I should" or no reason at all. Identifying the purpose of your site is key to dialing in the perfect setup. That being the case, (and just as something to think about) I might consider having a contact block RIGHT on the homepage. Maybe to the side on your navigation bar. I like the idea that is on your site already which scrolls through different aspects. Maybe put your coolest and catchiest looking work to be scrolling through? Half the battle is keeping someone who stumbles on your site clicking through to other pages, often times this is the type of content that does this!

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All good info so far, Adam. Let me add some from a marketing perspective.

The first step to take is to decide what you want to achieve with the site. Here are some examples:

- Establish, present a brand

- Use it as a marketing tool, drawing prospective customers in

- Use it as a Public Relations tool

- use it as an eCommerce, "selling" tool

You've already said that you want to complete the sale with the site. That's a fairly open-ended goal.

You'll want to make sure that your design, functionality, content, photos, etc all work together

to achieve your end goal. There is an argument for all the above items to be achieved with a

website. Where most get lost is not knowing everything they want to achieve, and not

laying out a cohesive plan to do so.

If you're going to try to 'close the deal' with the site, then you'll want to think about a few things, Like:

- What is your sales process? How do you "close the deal" now? That's to say, what is your step

by step manner in which you successfully get customers to sign on the dotted line.

--> Really work this out, because you'll need to integrate this on your site in the design, content,

and flow. I use the term, sales flow.

- Where are the visitors/prospects coming from? A phone call?, an advertisement?, business

card? Search Engines? Links from other sites? etc...

--> This is important because where they 'should' land on the site and the path that you lead

them on to close them could be different. Not every visitor may be in the same stage

of a sale.

- What does the actual 'closing of the sale' involve? This is certainly where technical design

will be important (i.e. wood, finish, style, etc, etc)

- What else will you need to 'close the deal'? Does a customer usual talk to another customer,

look through a book of photos of completed work, or read reviews somewhere? If so,

you'll want to be sure to include these in your sales process (available on the site)

The key is that unless someone's shopping for parts, you have a unique process to convince

someone to trust you with their money and their 'custom' furniture that they can't touch or see.

If you can't incorporate that in a "flow" that guides them through your site, your chances of

successfully closing them on your site will be minimal. Just having a bunch of photos and

color choices on a page won't do it. Just as in any sale, you'll have to gain their trust, learn

what's important about them, and guide them to say Yes to you. All that is much easier

to 'wing' in person. It is easy to lose a visitor's interest online.

The technical aspects of a site are important... speed, usability, looks... These are a must

or the rest can be undermined. But they are the framework and not the end. I'd suggest

giving serious thought to how you'll achieve your end goal (purchase, phone call, return

visit, or whatever) with your content and flow. Speak to your customer, relieve their fears,

make them feel good about what they can gain. Lead them through the site, answering

their questions, educating them, asking them to continue to take action (follow your flow),

and walk them to the point where they'll say Yes. Or, if not yes, yet another action step to

move them closer.

Hope this helps.

Shawn Blair

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I think there are two things to bare in mind: What you want to communicate, and to whom. (Yes I do web sites too, but all opinions are personal, even mine).

Let's start with the 'to whom'. A potential client, hopefully. Someone who appreciates beauty, both in the nature of the material, and the skill of the craftsman. Someone who will spread the word, possibly to other potential clients - you are in a niche market here.

What generally are they looking for? Remember, there's no such thing as an average visitor, nor a perfect one for that matter.

Something to treasure? "Hand made, solid wood, did some of the design myself".

A conversation piece? "It's based on the Karakuri tansu, and look here, there's a secret compartment"

Something that they hope people will associate with them? This is the iPhone strategy: the iPhone is cool, I have an iPhone, therefore I am cool.

That should help you sort out the communications a little.You want a single continuous message - you're not selling hardware (200 types of hinges, 10,000 types of screws, etc).

You have some beautifully crafted pieces on your site - once they can be found. Each one has a story, "a client in Minnesota wanted a display case for his collection of Japanese swords...", so tell it, together with the pictures.

People also love the 'how' story. So put some photographs together of planes, chisels, and hand swords, er saws. Then tell them (very briefly) what they're for and why. A few photographs of you in the shop. The raw cut wood - you'd be amazed how interesting this is to people. Just don't go into details.

Also remember that people don't read web sites. Really. They just browse them. Skim the first paragraph, glance at the first picture. That's it, then they're gone.

So just put your woodworking skills to use on your own site. As you say, you're not happy with your site. Too many wood essences maybe? Should have used polish instead of lacquer?

My remarks - with criticism. Please take them as constructive. Ya gotta be cruel to be kind...

Home page. Remember you have about 10 seconds before the visitor moves on.

No flash please - none. Otherwise Mr iPhone user will be wondering what that black hole represents. Put something in the banner space - logo on the left (nice logo, but I-think-you-need-a-shorter-slogan-perhaps), nothing on the right? Surely a good place for a piece of furniture? Different piece of furniture on every page, with links.

Menu bar. It's OK - but 'design a legacy'? Am I going to die? Heirloom, perhaps. The page jumps when you hover over the tabs - bit too surprising, methinks.

Black hole. Sorry, I switched JavaScript back on - ah a flash object - with cut off text. Hmm.

Three big buttons. All yelling 'press me'... Decisions, decisions...

---------------- The fold -------------------------------------------------

Yes there's stuff under the fold, silly me, should have looked.

In ten seconds all I got was Adam King Studio, Furniture designed for... black hole, big buttons, what is this? So where's the furniture? What type of furniture? Are you an interior designer?

Please remove the wooden icons. Not a good idea.

No big buttons - you've got a nice clean menu bar.

Two random pictures of close-ups of the furniture with a hand running over the table top, or holding the door open - something that looks like it's being used lovingly. One paragraph of text - praising the client "Hand made furniture by a renowned craftsman for people who appreciate the finer things in life", maybe a testimonial. The 'products' you make are touchy feely, get that across. Images link to the portfoglio.

Needs a title (for the browser window) in the home page too.

Portfoglio. Not just the pieces for sale, please. Add to cart? Hand made, then carts. Doesn't sound right to me. Did anyone do that?

Studio blog. That's where you tell the story. That's what you link to in the portfoglio.

About page. Are you having an identity crisis? Am I potentially buying furniture from someone with problems. The photo, er, no. "Adam about to sort out a stain blotch using a piece of 2 x 4 - and he's not happy". You don't have to smile, you can be line sighting something, blowing shaving away, anything but that expression. (Remember I skim the first paragraph, I glance at the photograph).

HTH

John

Now, if only I could heed my own advise for my own web site. Sigh.

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I think there are two things to bare in mind: What you want to communicate, and to whom. (Yes I do web sites too, but all opinions are personal, even mine).

I think this is absolutely key. Getting into the technical aspects can often be putting the cart before the horse.

Like all good design, purpose must be established as the foundation. Execution and best practices are definitely important but are a givin. An analog would be describing the joinery of a custom made office desk without assessing the buyer's needs, physical size, and potential future uses that may deviate from those of the present.

The purpose can be derived by exploring what you want do achieve in your business. From there you'll get answers to questions like; What do I want people to expect form me? What do I want people to expect from my site?

The best way I can explain it is that you're creating precedent, establishing trust and a building a relationship. The way any piece of design works is virtually identical to the way you'd conduct yourself when meeting a first time client who dropped into your shop.

-John

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The 3 most important things about good website design are:

1. content

2. content

3. content

That said ... I can't help but continuously improve my site in an effort to achieve the perfect layout/design/functionality...etc.

The most important person in my audience... is me.

I try to make my site work the way I would want if I were a visitor.

This is my current site... but I'm already re-doing the design and functionality... to go with an even cleaner design.

http://www.panofish.net

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Two things about flash I feel the need to chime in on,

1. Imo the issue with flash on I devices is nothing more than a Steve Jobs power play. I know of two schools of thought related to this topic. One is that Jobs and company is playing the part of big brother. Since flash is compiled, you have no real way of knowing what it's going to do. Thus to protect everyone from themselves, flash is not allowed. After all, what you can't use can't hurt you. The other school of thought, is that Jobs wants to maintain his "walled garden", in other words you can't get content or applications onto an I devise unless you get it through apple. Since a flash application can load and run other flash applications, flash can't be allowed. One last note, I devices play flash just fine, but you have to jailbreak them. With that being said, John is correct, you should limit the usage of flash, to displaying video content (html 5 is not the answer, maybe it will be in 3 or 4 years), or animations imo.

2. Flash and JavaScript, need not be a black hole for users who don't have them. check out this page on my blog. If you don't have JavaScript or Flash enabled, you get a message telling you that you need to have them to view a chunk of content. Any competent web developer can set this up for you, and it can be as simple or as complicated as you like.

No flash please - none. Otherwise Mr iPhone user will be wondering what that black hole represents. Put something in the banner space - logo on the left (nice logo, but I-think-you-need-a-shorter-slogan-perhaps), nothing on the right? Surely a good place for a piece of furniture? Different piece of furniture on every page, with links.

Menu bar. It's OK - but 'design a legacy'? Am I going to die? Heirloom, perhaps. The page jumps when you hover over the tabs - bit too surprising, methinks.

Black hole. Sorry, I switched JavaScript back on - ah a flash object - with cut off text. Hmm.

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I've seen Flash, as an element, these days, used very well. The Flash of old with the intro page that blocks entry into a site is has been, never was. I'd pass on Flash headers or the 'main' content of like, the Home page. Flash could be a great tool for a slide show or video to display some work.

I don't know anything of the 'I''dom cause I don't do the Iphone. Integrating a site for usability on a smart device is another whole piece of the pie itself. The question to ask, is how much of that is your market and what investment are you willing to put there. Think there's plenty of time for that. I'd certainly ensure that smart phone users could click into a simple version that would make for a decent experience, at some point after the main site is completed.

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Wow. I love that you weighed in on the technical aspects of this. I think it's proof that if you're going to do it right, hire the pros. DIY can only take you so far and it's rarely as far as you desire to go. Thanks

This is what I was thinking. A Portfolio page with a "about" button that further explains the piece, ie. inspiration, design challenges, choice of material, etc. I think it goes a long way in showing the value of each piece.

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"Building a website" is a big can of worms. Contrary to what many people still believe,

building a business online is more than a few pages with pics and text.

A "website" is a personal sort of thing, so to speak. It can be just a personal statement,

or a full time project to build a business. As a business 'asset', its just one of the many

tools available for the business owner.

So, its important to be clear on your goals for the site. Focus on how you want to use

the tool based on your intended investment (both dollars and time). Don't forget that

you don't have to meet all your expectations out of the gate. No matter the size or

goals, it certainly should be a long term project to continue to build over time.

Wow...I mean...I had no idea this would turn into a full on discussion here. There's too much to weigh in on so, I'm trying to read all these responses. Serious food for thought.

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Isn't there just?

Wow...I mean...I had no idea this would turn into a full on discussion here. There's too much to weigh in on so, I'm trying to read all these responses. Serious food for thought.

In my case I'm replying 'to pay back' the forum, and because I know something about the subject - difficult for me in the other threads ;-).

I've already received much valuable help there.

Like most 'trades', you can do it yourself or you can hire a professional. Since you're looking at the problem from a business angle, I'd suggest you think about a budget, and hire a pro. They can worry about all the three letter acronyms and technicalities [2]. You can worry about what to say - and how.

@Underscorefunk #15 you built and run TWW don't you? Why oh why those awful wood grain backgrounds? Client's request? ;-)

Wise words in your comment (not just because you quoted me).

@panofish #16 Nice site, but too busy for my tastes (the home page) - The three important things? Hadn't heard that one before ;-) If you're thinking about the visitor, then the most important client is actually them - which is correct IMHO.

@Dan S #17 I was talking about the home page. I feel that any type of movement is distracting - and we've only got 10 seconds! On other pages Flash is fine if it helps. I have mixed feelings about videos, most people don't see them though. Galleries can be done with JavaScript (few users switch it off, but a lot of 'smart' devices don't have it). Complicated stuff, like choosing the options and colours for a car - go Flash go.

@Shawn B #21 Very wise words indeed. You won't get it right first (or second) time. The analytics will help (number of visits, which pages, but give it time). Make a wish list - 5 items, trim it to three, put them in order. Hit the first, then tweak away...

Just like woodworking projects there are three factors - resources, time, and cost. As always, you can only control any two...

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@panofish #16 Nice site, but too busy for my tastes (the home page) - The three important things? Hadn't heard that one before ;-) If you're thinking about the visitor, then the most important client is actually them - which is correct IMHO.

Thanks for the feedback John.. I appreciate it. I agree with the "busy" comment, which is why I am currently redesigning it.

Since my site is a blog and not a business (unlike Adam King) ... I want to focus on attracting "like" minded visitors.

For a business site, Adam does need to think seriously about his target audience and what they want and make sure that his site makes it obvious and exciting in that first 10 seconds.

On a side note... it would be interesting to see other commenter's websites.

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The 3 most important things about good website design are:

1. content

2. content

3. content

That said ... I can't help but continuously improve my site in an effort to achieve the perfect layout/design/functionality...etc.

The most important person in my audience... is me.

I try to make my site work the way I would want if I were a visitor.

This is my current site... but I'm already re-doing the design and functionality... to go with an even cleaner design.

http://www.panofish.net

Dude,

The 3-D images on your site are BAD TO THE BONE!

Great work!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm sure a lot of this was already written but it was tl;dr.

Consider html5 instead of flash - not completely mainstream yet, but will be within the next year or two.

Downsize the bottom half of your page - recent posts - connect - who is Adam King. Cut that size in about half.

On the portfolio page, when you click a piece for more information it opens in a new window, keep your content within a single window (unless linking to external sites).

Simplify your tag line..something like "Furniture. Tranquility. Elegance" etc.

I would personally remove this line "I started furniture making professionally back in 2004" from your front page, don't give clients a reason to doubt your abilities/skills (a lot of people won't trust somebody who has only been doing it for 6 years...sad I know...still something I would consider when looking at users). Leave it on your about page, not the front page.

Design for the most common screen sizes (check out http://browsersize.googlelabs.com/).

Make people think they are getting a unique piece, even if they are not (don't lie of course). i.e. On your floor-lamp page you have this line "This piece was a joy to create the first time, and it will be a joy to re-create it for you."

Remember to stay consistent, you want to build yourself as a brand. Watch a couple of videos from Gary Vaynerchuk about developing yourself as a brand and leveraging social media to build a business. Check out some design blogs and look at other sites. I suggest you start with smashingmagazine.com and read through some of their articles.

Keep mobile users in mind, not that you need a dedicated mobile site, just make sure it is usable from an iphone or android device. Users are going to be out shopping see something they like but want to change it, and that is when they will start searching.

Just my thoughts. Good luck on the redesign!

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