2018 Website Redesign & Thoughts on Web Design for the Common Photographer

Hello! Welcome to my new website.

Some stuff has changed, and some stuff has stayed the same. One of the big changes I wanted to make in 2018 was being "more on it" with my website.

Not only does that include staying updated and current with what projects I share here, but it also includes changes like integrating my social media and other key changes here and there. One of those changes is this: my blog.

Firstly: I apologize for any and all spelling mistakes. I consider myself a novice writer, and don't take myself too seriously on this posts. Expect this warning on every blog post 

This is the first in a few steps to make my website more "dense". I've tracked how people have used and interacted with MANY iterations of my website over the years, and have found a noticeable trend:

People get bored really, really easily. I'm surprised if you've even made this far into the blog post (or have even made it to this part of the website for that matter).

Generally, people look at the first page (homepage), and thats where around 60-70 percent of users stay. After that they may click on some images on the homepage, but only about 25 percent of people will click on other sections or really click further than that. 

Some of that is a product of web design, some that is likely content (sorry, college-version-of-my-website)...but honestly, lots of it is just how we interact with webpages nowadays.

Because of that, I tend to "stack" my content on the front page. Everything that is good, the best, the most noteworthy is in front. It's on the homepage. You may have to scroll, but i'm mostly banking on the fact that people will get bored after scrolling for a bit.

There are other pages— currently its broken into food and outside— although I don't expect those to get that much traffic. And that's fine, as most of clients are looking for my studio work. The idea is that i've built in lots of nooks and grannies in my website to offer something for specific people. I don't intend the average person to view those areas (or even this area), but for people looking for specific, curated content it helps tell a different narrative. Seeing 'Derek as the food photographer' isn't apparent on that first page, but it shows clearly in my food section.

Now, even though this may be true (and I hope it is), the average viewer still may not stumble across the food section. And that's fine! The biggest benefit of making these sections is it allows me to share specific URL's with people. If I approach a client who is only interested in food, I can share with them derekmfong.com/food instead of just derekmfong.com. Then, they'll see the content that I believe is best for the job vs. making them search around my website.

They're still encouraged to do so of course, but in todays day and age, I think getting your point across slowly is bad. Real bad. It sounds incredibly lame, but people just DONT want to click. People are OK with scrolling (see: Instagram, Facebook, and the rise of social media), but clicking requires, man, so much effort...

There's the devils argument to this all, which is to make very finely curated, albeit smaller,  sections of my website. Book 1, Book 2, etc. (although usually its described as 'Book I and Book II' because so many photographers are SO creative...) I don't buy this argument. At all. I DO buy the argument from an 'old school' mentality. That is, when you actually print a portfolio and show it to someone. 

Printing is much different than web viewing though. Lots of similar ideas are present, but there are also key issues with trying to translate ideas into each medium.

Fact is, people who get your website or browse it casually aren't going to give it as much attention as a physical book usually. Where it would be considered extremely rude to not flip through every page of someone's portfolio (in, say, a portfolio review setting), its expected of the viewer to not view every page of your website. People get bored, people have low attention spans...its not personal, because thats what makes it great: its anonymous. 

In the world of books, printed portfolios, etc. I think it is very important to do the whole "Book I Book II, Lifestyle, Beauty, etc." and lay things out like that. It makes sense because you are the one generally controlling the narrative. You control how your client sees the images YOU are in control of what order they read the book YOU control the atmosphere. But you lose all of that control on your website.

Now, i'm not saying that having sections is a bad thing (I mean, obviously: I'm doing it). But I think you have to assume that people just ARENT going to look at some sections of your website. If you are talented enough or diverse enough to warrant many sections, you really need to aggregate the best photos of all those sections into one page (i.e home page) and tell your story there. While it does look "sloppier" or some photos may not work together...I think in todays world, its really your best bet.

Some people have their homepage defaulted to their "best" section of their site. And I did this for a while: it was my studio photography page. And that's fine and dandy, but the same rule applied: about 25 percent of people would never glance at any on figure work or food photography. Is that a bad thing? I have no idea. But I do know that i'd rather they see that than be offended because a photo of a blueberry doesnt match thematically with a nice product shot. 

Basically: i'm arguing that your viewer has a short attention span, and getting things done faster is better than making it look pretty. You can still have sections! That's ok. Just make sure you are telling the best version of "you" in your homepage. Sure, if you want to omit the food, still life, head shots, etc. parts on your site than by all means, omit that from the front page. Just remember that people may not know you do these things because, honestly, they may not spend the time to search your website.

A lot of this idea is also connected to how your website is showing work. I opt for a 'card view' where images can all be seen at once and change depending on your screen size (its called 'responsive' web design). Lots of people hate this, because it shows it in what I would consider a non-traditional format. Going back to print portfolios (or even art shows/galleries), one would NEVER want to present their work like this. It's just a blob. A blob of images, loosely curated. It looks shitty in person, trust me. However, the rules change when you move to the online realm: yes, it looks chaotic, but so does a lot of modern day web design. It's like looking at a newspaper's front page: a huge conglomerate of articles all starting at the same time and never ending on the same page. It's to draw your attention, knowing they could totally lose it if they dont have a stellar article or photo. 

Having a web site that promotes single view scrolling or, ick, full page single viewing, is just anti-web friendly. Having a single image carousel is nice, although you limit the freedom of your viewer. This is the most direct way of giving someone the feeling of viewing an actual hardbound portfolio book. However, unless your images are literally a 'page turner' you risk losing your audience / viewer / client. The UI (user interface) generally doesn't encourage movement, as even small image previews are hard to navigate well. Again, the easier you can make it for your viewer, the better.

The same applies to my all time most hated format: full page, single viewing (ew). Some photographers default their website to view images in full page, single view mode. Worse, they often make it so the images auto-scroll or fade after a few seconds. It looks pretty if you are a passive bystander (see: showing images on an electronic billboard, on an ipad display, or in the background at a conference) but as an active participant in your website (i.e people using it), limiting them in full page view goes against what people want. Additionally, the auto scroll / view mode is also not a good thing. I mean, how long does one decide to keep an image up? 3 seconds? 5 seconds? Is that really how long your images deserve to be looked at? You play a risky game here—if its a shit image then, yes, its great to have it automatically moved along. However, what if its a great image? Do you want to frustrate your audience by not letting them soak in all the details of your photo? No? Ok, so don't use this format. 

Additionally, these websites tend to have vague or odd UI that makes it hard to figure out how best to get to the 'card' view or to view images as thumbnails. Everytime I come across one of these web pages I instantly want to go to the card view. I dont have time to sit through full page images of everything you have decided to present to me.

Finally, I think there's something to be said about splash pages, or 'splash-like pages'.

Splash pages are usually a small animation or landing page that says "hey, you've arrived! Welcome" (although usually never those exact words. Usually its a logo.). The problem is, you have to think of your website critically. "Who am I trying to be? What am I trying to say? What does this site say about me?" A splash page is like opening a fancy bottle of wine to slowly drink before an expensive meal. Extravagant. Sets the mood. Sets the tone. Regal, sophisticated. Slow

Slow. That last part I said. This is the main reason why splash pages should be frowned upon. For people with slow internet access or people with short attention spans (re: my entire blog post so far), this DRIVES PEOPLE CRAZY. I admit it, seeing a splash page the first time you visit someones page, it can be special sometimes. But every subsequent time you open it, you'll just want it to GO THE HELL AWAY because you actually want to navigate the site.\

It's also a vague option for the viewer. Do I click it? Should I try to click it? Is this normal? Where are the navigation controls? Leaving things vague to your viewer is never good. So don't try it.

Now, ok, the big lesson here has been "first impressions last". Its why I put most of my images in the start. So then, why not a splash page? Because it doesn't solve anything. You aren't getting anywhere with a cool graphic of your name, your coolest image, etc. You're just slowing down the viewing process. You are hindering ones ability to have control over your website. Yes, for a brief, 2 second period you have total control over the viewer—but is that 2 seconds really worth it?

Having a splash page certainly sets a tone, but I think when most photographers look at their website they'll realize it isnt necessary. I think for wedding photographers a splash page of their logo could be fantastic—it kind of sets the mood. It's cheesy as hell, but what wedding photograph isn't?

It's like that sort of fancy restaurant you like that plays music in the background of their website. It's really lame, you totally understand why they want to do it, but you go with it. You're just their for the hours of operation anyways. 

In contrast, those kinds of passive, uncontrollable elements (auto-moving images, splash pages, music, etc.) hinder the experience for anyone who you want to actually spend time on your site. You know when you get a pop up 5 seconds after opening a page on web store that yells "SIGN UP NOW AND SAVE 50 PERCENT ON ALL PURCHASES!" You guys all love that, right? Right? Yea, right. No one likes that, because it takes the viewer out of control for a moment, and forces them to go through unnecessary steps to see what they actually want.  

Some people also do 'splash-like' pages. These are splash images (so full page usually, move automatically / fade to other images) that still give access to important controls like a navigation bar or a way for you to go to different sections. This is ok, right? Still gives the user control, but I get to show off all my images in full-page goodyness! 

Well, no. No and yes. Yes, you can give your viewer full control over the website and they can ignore your splash page. But no, because of what I said: they're probably going to ignore the auto fade in / fade out images that are scrolling by their screen like an out dated power point presentation. People want to go places. And hardly is that place just sitting at the home page, idly watching images fly by with, generally, very little control over the images. Don't let your viewer be passive. Let them have full control to explore if they want to. Give them the choice, and stack the odds in your favor. 

Last, but not least: websites that don't have favicons. Lots of people are making websites with easy to use platforms, like Squarespace (this site included). Sadly, lots of people don't take the time to make a favicon icon for their site. This is fine in the sense that only really picky or observant people will notice the lack of favicon...but this becomes an issue when you're a high profile photographer or store that thinks they're being all fancy with their new square space site. Trust me, you look fancy and cool compared to that old 90's-esque website you may have had, but make sure your polish goes down to every detail. Every time I see someones website that still has the square space default favicon, I just roll my eyes because it shows (to me at least) that these people don't care about web design.