The 4 Words
"Home", "about us", "contact us" and "portfolio" have been the anchor of almost every design firm’s web site navigations since the web began.
You knew that no matter how amazing the design was or how complex the navigation you always had to adhere to those 4 fundamental terms.
We have seen those 4 words re-named, truncated, made into icons and I even once saw them all spelled backward and no matter how creative and whacky we try to get with them there is no doubt that those 4 words have become a mainstay in our industry.
This article is a tribute to those 4 words that have been touched by, designed for, thought of and agonized over by every designer out there.
A Website's DNA
I remember a time when you had different factions of designers, those who used Corel and those who chose Adobe, then Macromedia showed up and now Adobe reigns.
Then you have the Mac people and the PC people, you had your Illustrators and your Photoshopers and this list goes on, but every one of those people where connected because they all had to at one time or another adhere to the 4 terms that make a site what it truly is.
It is the DNA of every design firm’s website.
Home is a word that has much more meaning than the four humble letters that make it up, it denotes warmth and safety it is a destination a place to start and when all else fails it’s the place you always click back to.
Everyone surfing the web knows deep down that Home is only a click away and when you find yourself on a site that is confusing and unorganized just click on that cute little house icon or that familiar word and everything will be ok.
About us is always a term that had been a challenge for designers, I have seen it say simply “about” or just “us” and many other combinations that basically all equal to “about us”.
An about us section is a wonderful example of the nature of an artist, you will see humble accounts, grand praise, pompous fools and so on.
I once spent a whole day just reading the about us sections of about 150 design firms and let me tell you it’s a blast, a tribute to our industry and a wonderful read.
You can tell a lot from an about us page, how warm the firm is, how well they get along, what they think of themselves and what they think of others. It is where you can read all of the amazing claims and promises of a firm and how wonderful they think they truly are.
Take a few hours on a Sunday and just read through the various About Us sections of your favorite design firm websites, I guarantee it will be an eye opening experience.
Contact us is one of the most important parts of a design firms site, it’s your phone number, your email address and your physical address.
A form or not a form, a hyperlink or not a hyperlink, personal email address or info@...? So many questions, what does the perfect contact us page actually look like?
Some firms have a form with a text field the size of postage stamp and some have you fill out a whole evaluation before you can get someone to call you back. Take a look at different contact pages and you will see how much a firm wants to actually be contacted.
A true contact us page should make someone, anyone, feel completely welcome to send a message or request some information from the firm, I personally like to see pictures of the people I am emailing so I can get an idea of who I am dealing with.
Go ahead and contact a design firm today, even if it is just to say “hello, I like your work” or “hey your work stinks”.
There is nothing more precious to a design firm than the portfolio page. It is the trophy room of the website; it is where most people navigate immediately to get a quick glimpse to see if this firm or designer is worth anything.
It's like the old baseball card collection book, it starts off empty and it is your job to fill it up, but not with just anything, only your very best.
Years ago I would obsess all night on my old website, with each new site I designed I would have to redo my entire order and make sure that whoever came to my site only saw the very best first, that changed daily sometimes hourly.
I have seen firms lay out portfolio pages using chips, crops, screen grabs, colors, text, roll overs, and basically every single design element possibly known to man have been employed to create the most truly unique and special portfolio page, yet in the end, they all look the same.
A portfolio page is about content, about the work you have done and its quality.
An artist's portfolio is his or her baby, before the web a person would carry a huge flat portfolio with them everywhere, it is who the firm or the artist is and all about.
If a portfolio page is unorganized and out of date then you can bet that is who you are going to deal with.
Now I would like to get to the main reason I wrote this article. We seem to have a newcomer to our 4 phrase club.
A new member who wants to be just as important as the rest of the sections, a new member who is as or even more powerful and emotionally driven than any of the older 4 sections and a new member who symbolizes how far this industry has come and where it is eventually going.
This new section needs no words, no links or drop down menus it is all encompassing and could eventually engulf the rest of our 4 mainstays. For those of you who haven’t noticed, the newest trend on the navigation bar is a reel.
A reel is many things, it could be an action packed short movie full of well cut scenes and quality acting all telling a story about the firm.
It could be an animated delight that will make a person laugh and enjoy watching creative work weaved into a nice animated film, it can be a slide show set to music of the various websites a firm has developed or a montage of logos flying across the screen doing all kinds of crazy things.
A reel is powerful, you simply sit back and watch, it will evoke emotion and drama, it will tell you who the firm is and what they excel at and it can be done in so many different ways.
We are a visual world, the word “movies” is made of the word move because not only is it a moving image but it has the power to move the person watching it.
So from here on keep an eye out for your favorite design firms' reel here on FWA or on the company website, it is coming, some have already done it, some are creating more and more.
A reel is going to make a true run for those elite 4 on every firm’s site, it will push and shove its way into that navigational scheme and stay firmly planted there.
I am truly excited to see more and more reels every day, I enjoy the creativity and drama behind the firms, we are artists we are creators and we evoke emotion and we can finally do it openly though a reel. Stay tuned!
About the Author, Craig Elimeliah
Craig Elimeliah (former) Producer at Firstborn Multimedia. He is a native New Yorker who started his design career in Jerusalem. Craig has a background in design, technology, project management, entrepreneurship and sales.
When Craig is not producing projects for Firstborn he spends his time with his kids, writing, painting and cooking.