Gathering Design Ideas from Other Sites

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When you’re building a house, you need to start with a solid foundation. If there are cracks in the concrete, or if the ground hasn’t been leveled, it doesn’t matter how many skylights there are or whether the counters are made of marble — the house will not stand the test of time.



The same can be said of Web sites. Flash and graphics are fun, but they will not add up to much if the back-end design isn’t sound. Accordingly, there are many ways good back-end design can affect a Web site, said Sean Wolfe, president of I Heart Squares, a Chicago-based Web site and Web applications company.



“A good design should help a Web application scale really well,” he said. “A good design will also be easy to maintain and add things to it. A good design also will enable interaction with new technologies and new ways of interacting with information as they become available.”



On the flip side of the coin, poor back-end design also can have an impact on a Web site.



“A bad back-end design possibly will have a lot of system downtime, corrupt information or just be really difficult to maintain,” Wolfe said. “Bad design has a lot of problems that come up and hurt you in the long run.”



Additionally, he said there are industry best practices for Web design that can help you achieve good back-end design.



“Best practices include test-driven development and doing short iteration cycles,” Wolfe said. “Make sure you have good source-control management, and that you have communication with employees in regard to what you’re working on and issues that are arising [using] wikis, e-mail, whatever — it’s best to keep in touch with the customer, your co-workers and whoever else needs to be included in the loop.”



Wolfe also said, though, that Web site developers do not need to feel confined by industry best practices, that it’s akin to knowing the rules before you can break them.



“Learning about design patterns and best practices is a really good thing, but you don’t have to entirely adhere to them,” he said. “A design should be simple, not overly complicated — sometimes, everybody tries to throw in so many features, and then it kind of puts it in a corner, and it can then be difficult to make modifications to the system.”



Further, Wolfe said good back-end design should be able to adapt to changes.



“Make sure you leave yourself room to breathe and to grow,” he said.



In regard to gathering design ideas for your own Web site, Wolfe said a good initial step doesn’t necessarily involve computers.



“If you’re starting out, at first I would look around, read a lot of articles and blogs and talk with other application developers and designers to get their input on things,” he said. “Then, from there, they can also recommend what to do, and you can throw some ideas at them.”



The next step does involve computers, though.



“Other things you can do is go to Web sites you actually use on a regular basis — what things do you like about it?” Wolfe said. “When you look at that, see if any of those ideas are things you can use.”



He also said, when using ideas from other Web sites, it is important to take those features to the next level, thereby paying your dues, so to speak. You also should recognize the source of those features in some way.



“Stealing ideas is one thing, and I think it’s a really go

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