The Web sites designed by Huge (hugeinc.com) for Hillier (hillier.com) and DeStefano + Partners (dplusp.com - below) open with pages that tell the viewer about how each firm looks at architecture and design. Hillier’s is very people-oriented; DeStefano’s speaks about the things that influence the firm’s work.

Design principles

One reason to hire an independent Web designer is to get an outside eye. As aesthetically oriented as architects are, they still make basic design errors when taking on the design of their sites. There are many, including unattractive background colors with unreadable type, use of pointless animations that can’t be skipped and take forever to load, navigation that leads to dead ends, links that aren’t descriptive, and the use of frames—there are many elements that can make your site unwieldy and inelegant. Some of the worst mistakes come from overestimating the monitor size your viewers might have. Clarity is key, and if your site comes up and all the navigation is below eye level on a viewer’s screen, there’s a good chance they won’t try to find it.

One of the most common mistakes is that firms fail to post the name of a specific person who can be contacted by a potential client or a prospective employee viewing the site—and, even worse, some firms don’t include their phone number and address. This sends the message that either the firm is impersonal, or they’re so unsure of who will be running their business-development department in the future, they don’t want to commit a name to a Web site. It seems unlikely that a potential client looking to spend a million dollars or more on a building is going to send a query to a blind e-mail address.

Search engines

If the name of your site doesn’t come up on the first page of a Google search, you’re in trouble, and one of the reasons one should hire a top-notch Web designer is because they’ll have strategies for getting to the top. In general, search engines are text based, not image based, so the more times you can insert the name of your firm and keywords about it in your Web site, the better your chances. Books like Max Hits, Building and Promoting Successful Websites, by Web guru Mike Slocombe (RotoVision SA, Mies, Switzerland, 2003), have plenty of information on the best ways to get prominent placement on search engines. And if other sites have links to your site, you should put that link on your page, too. For example, when a story about your firm runs in archrecord.construction.com, it will include a link to your site. Link to the story, and you’ve just added another chance for a search engine to recognize your site.

The Web evolves

Blank Mosseri has offices in New York City and San Francisco, and according to Blank, who was trained as an architect, he uses his firm’s own Web site to keep the two offices in constant communication with each other—a service he offers his clients. “We’ve found that daily comments posted to our internal forums keep us in touch, and we can allow clients to view certain areas to keep them up with our progress on their sites,” he says. As the world gets smaller and more communication occurs online, firms are also finding that marketing themselves to a broad, global audience can occur by way of a Web site. “Multilingual pages are complicated to create, but bringing that international marketing edge to architects can give them the exposure they need,” says Skokna. “Architects are great clients for Web designers because they have such keen aesthetics and an understanding of principles important to Web design—grids, simplicity, visuals. They can and should present unique experiences for people who come to their sites. The only limit is technology, and as that continues to evolve, so will the potential of the Web.”

A few Web sites we like. . .mostly

When Ingrid Spencer, who wrote "What to consider when designing your firm Web site" asked Record’s editors to provide the addresses of Web sites which really impressed them, few seemed to recall any. That seemed to indicate that, so far, firms haven't mastered the medium.

The surprising thing about those that did make the list is that most of them are not terribly flashy, leading one to conclude that, possibly, it is still true that less is more. But, those who read Ms. Spencer's article carefully will observe that almost all of the Web sites we like might be improved by adopting some of her recommendations, but the positives outweigh the negatives by far.

annbeha.com
One good thing Beha’s site is that it offers persistent menu options on every page, meaning that if you want to get back to an earlier page—or skip ahead to another part of the site—all you have to do is click on the left-hand side of the screen. It also offers a clearly organized portfolio of the office’s work, complete with plenty of photos and a text description for each project.

eldoradoarchitects.com
When one views Eldorado’s Web site, you can’t escape the fact that this firm is slightly quirky, and that they have a sense of humor (one section is devoted to employee’s dogs). Yet, it is very complete. The project portfolio is very clean, and one can scan a lot of projects very quickly. The profiles of employees give users a very clear idea of what kind of people are behind the firm’s culture.

kirksey.com
Sometimes the simpler the better. For clarity and ease of use, you can’t do too much better than this site. Navigation is clear, and almost anything a person would want to know about the firm is right there. Kirksey has grasped that their Web site is an important recruiting tool. Prospective employees can submit their resumes online or scan job openings. The press section has downloadable articles about the firm’s projects.

lehrerarchitects.com
A Web site that actually lists its company’s address and phone number right on the home page—what a breath of fresh air! (And, for those in the know, the homepage shows Lehrer’s self-designed digs: so you can picture the place you’re telephoning.) The site’s elegantly designed menus are easy to navigate. And, a major bonus for time-pressed editors and others in need of practical information ASAP, project descriptions contain dates.

morphosis.net
Morphosis’ easily navigable site has everything: a complete portfolio, plenty of information about the people who work there, and answers to most questions a person might have about employment information. If you’re searching for information, the site gives the user the names of specific contact people and a means of contacting them directly.

pcfandp.com
So what if its appearance is a little stodgy, and who cares if everyone knows about Pei Cobb Freed & Partners’ work already? A big thumbs up for the site’s detail-rich presentation of projects which can be sorted by date of completion, project type, client and location. Kudos also earned for the contacts page, which lists names and titles for key staff members.

pcparch.com
Pelli Clark Pelli’s Web site is quite modest considering the stature of this well established, internationally known firm. The site’s animations load very quickly, and the portfolio section makes it easy to see many projects very quickly.

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