I love to cook. I’m not a chef but I’m a passable cook. I can do more than boil water and love to try new recipes. I love the art and science of cooking and how flavors are created, layered and combined to create the final delicious meal. I love the feel of a sharp knife as it cuts and the smells as I build a dish. There is an art in choosing side dishes that match the main meal that match the wine or other beverage and all of them work together to maximize the taste experience. Heady stuff and beyond my simple abilities. I’d never survive in a professional kitchen – I’m better suited to mess halls – but I have learned there is a close parallel between cooking and building a fantastic website that’s not only functional but fun to use!
Choose fresh ingredients
The right ingredients make all the difference. We don’t make tasty salads with rotten tomatoes. We use fresh tomatoes from the garden or farmers market because they make a much better salad. The flavors are stronger and more distinct. The textures are softer and less pulpy. Likewise we don’t make websites with static HTML. We make them with platforms that offer us a breadth of functionality. WordPress allows us to get more done with less hassle and to have a greater impact with less time investment. This is essential to us if we produce and publish content frequently and even if we don’t. Our content is still delivered in an HTML framework but we no longer build with HTML. For 99.9% of the businesses and non-profits that I have worked with, WordPress will do the job quite nicely.
Choose great tools
Every professional chef has a set (not just one) of great knives. Every website owner should have a set of great tools too. These items should be in your tool kit and ready for use whether you’re a online service professional or someone just doing business online. Here’s a starter set:
- Good camera for taking photos or a source for buying them
- Good webcam for recording video or a hand-held
- Good microphone for recording audio
- Image editing software ( Adobe Photoshop works well but there are plenty of free image editing tools out there too )
- Video editing software ( Camtasia, Adobe Premiere Pro )
- Email news capture and delivery ( MailChimp, ConstantContact )
- Blog ( part of WordPress )
- Social Media share buttons ( AddThis, ShareThis, or other )
- Jetpack ( A package of tools. Start with these )
- Akismet: the anti-spam tool ( subscription )
- WordPress.com Stats ( requires account at WordPress.com – free )
- Analytics ( Google Analytics – requires an account at Google.com )
- Video Delivery ( YouTube, Vimeo )
- Image Gallery ( NextGen, loads of other options )
Layer the flavors
The tools you choose all need to work together just like the different flavors in a dish. If one is too strong, it will overpower and render the others useless. The ideal WordPress website uses a combination of plugins that work well with the theme. The software tools you use for video, photography, and audio just need to do the job well without a lot of fuss. The Adobe Cloud tools are subscription based so you can get a lot for a modest expense. When it comes time for a theme choose one that barely meets your needs because themes that try to be Swiss Army knives carry extra code that slows things down and are more points for potential exploits. Read my take on Selecting a WordPress Theme.
Sample often, Adjust Seasoning
I once met a professional chef and we got into a discussion about hiring. He said that he always gave the interviewee a meal at the start of the interview. He wanted them to tell him what they tasted because their ability to distinguish the flavors was the foundation for understanding how to build a great dish. Whether you cook, build websites, manage multi-million dollar projects, the key is to sample your progress often to be sure you’re on-track. Sampling at key points not only helps you stay headed in the right direction but also allows you to make corrections before it’s too late.
Every chef knows presentation is important. If the dish doesn’t look appetizing – no matter how good it tastes – it’s not likely to stay on the menu very long. Websites need to be appealing to the visitor too but not just eye-candy. Websites deliver messages subconsciously through the choice of visual elements. Picture selection, colors, white space, movement, width & height, sharp or soft, high contrast or low – all of these influence us when we visit a website. Here’s a nice infographic on the Psychology of Color: different colors, the emotions they invoke, and examples of the companies that leverage them. It can be well worth the investment to hire a professional designer – especially if you’re serious about doing business on the web.
Live and Learn
I think it’s important to realize you will likely make mistakes as you learn how to cook a website. And equally important to realize mistakes can be corrected (see Don’t let gremlins stop you). Working on the web is a never ending cycle of creation and evolution. Embracing change is a good thing but in a manageable way is critical to keeping your sanity.