Functional is best when it comes to designing websites

Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2012, 6:20 pm
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By Anthony Watt,
When it comes to websites, functional is often better than fancy.

This is one of the points students of Augustana College's Web Authors Guild strive to impart when they are building Web sites for nonprofits and businesses.

"The prettier websites out there are usually the worst for usability," Doug Tschopp, the group's adviser and Augustana's director of marketing, said.

A graphics-heavy site can bog a computer down,and elegant cursive fonts can make it hard for a search engine to find a website, Mr. Tschopp and students Ben Fischer and Andy Shearouse said.

Text color needs to be properly contrasted with the background, and page design needs to have a target audience in mind, they said.

The guild was a student group formed in 1997 with the goal of increasing web literacy at a time when the Internet was just beginning to root itself in society, Mr. Tschopp said.

When the guild asked for funds after forming and didn't get enough, it led to members hiring out their expertise to fund themselves, he said, adding that by the following year, the group had done its first commercial web construction.

Outreach still is a big part of what the guild - which has about a dozen members - does, Mr. Tschopp said. It regularly holds seminars for students, faculty and staff, teaching basics such as HTML and Photoshop.

The group also now handles regular maintenance for about 120 websites, rents space on its server to clients and is building about 30 more sites, Mr. Tschopp said.

The clients are largely nonprofits, though the group is seeing more commissions from small businesses, he said. Many are local, but some clients are from out of state, and one is in Kenya.

One of the guild's larger clients is the International Family Therapy Association, Mr. Tschopp said. Their initial job was building the association's main website. Then they were commissioned to do the IFTA's conference Web site, which included creating mechanisms to handle registration and other specific needs.

Now, the IFTA is using the guild to actually plan and coordinate the conference, Mr. Tschopp said.

The guild's rates for websites depends on the scale of the project but can be as low as a few hundred dollars.

Mr. Tschopp said the group's rates are much cheaper than what is often found in the market, where similar projects can cost thousands.

The work pays for all the guild's needs, and guild services allow web access and expertise for entities that otherwise might have difficulty getting it, Mr. Tschopp said.

Clients usually come with an idea of what they want -- whether from Web sites they've seen, pictures or something else, and the guild walks them through what creating the site will take.

It is not a one-sided proposition, Mr. Tschopp said. The clients get "homework" and must provide content for the site and help decide where it will go.

Some of the bigger challenges of the work comes from that collaboration, Mr. Tschopp said. Some clients aren't always the quickest at getting their homework done.

Another challenge for students is that they are still students, Mr. Fischer said. The clients' needs must be juggled with their school work.

But both young men said their programming experience has come from their work with clients and has paid off.

Mr. Fischer, 21, a senior from Batavia, said his work with the guild helped him get an internship with Deere & Company.

He said he's planning to go to graduate school and may want to work in the field of artificial intelligence.

Mr. Shearouse, 19, a sophomore from Coal Valley, said he still has a lot to learn, but believes that learning through his work has been very effective.

"Now I'm really looking at making a career out of web design when I graduate."

For More Information:

Telephone: (309) 794 -7534.
Address: 639 38th St., Rock Island, IL 61201

 Links to some sites built by the Web Authors Guild:


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