Since the launch of my shiny new website AshleyGoodwinPhotography.com on Friday, I have to say I have been absolutely proud of myself and how far I have come. But getting to the point of a new website and doing it all by myself wasn't easy (in fact it was incredibly daunting, hence why it's been a whole year!) but I am thankful I didn't rush into things, shell out a ton of cash, or make something "just to get by". I'm no graphic designer, and although I would like to pretend, what I do know comes from an interest in all creative fields and my eye and career as an interior designer. So as I may not know what makes sense "ergonomically" from a visual standpoint (if that is even a word in the graphic design world), I paired my basic knowledge of scale, repetition, consistency, etc. with what I loved, and as Jessica Horton kindly commented my website now "looks like [my] pinterest pins were thrown into a blender and a website came out". PERFECT! So, incase you are like me and know the website/blog you have isn't at it's full potential, you are completely stumped as to what you like, are a perfectionist AND a control freak (lord have mercy!), or have other priorities to invest your cash in other than a rebrand, then maybe my experience can help you out!
Website thought process
Natural brainstorming. This may be a given, yes, but for some people the way they brainstorm is different. For me, I like to come up with ideas (usually when I'm not trying to) and scribble them in a notebook. Once I have a good sense of how the ideas are forming and making sense, I get to work. I usually start off with one idea and then towards the end wind up with something completely different, but it's not until I actually sit down and start working that things develop. If I waited for things to be perfect I would be waiting forever and my task would never get accomplished. In fact, I was laying on my favorite beach, Waimanalo in my favorite Vix Bikini looking at the gorgeous ombre water when it all hit me "THIS is my brand! The mix of colors, the ocean, the feel, the touch of shimmer and gold!" I wasn't even trying, but it happened organically.
Collecting ideas: Before we came to Hawaii, I spent hours on the computer looking at other photographer's blogs and websites and doing what I thought was great research. Turns out it just confused me more and caused me to lose site of what I really wanted and began to think in the terms of "what other people are doing". Once we got here, the vibe inspired me and it all started to click. "THIS is it!". I began taking pictures with my iphone of anything that inspired me, not just for my "website" but for ME. Store windows in Waikiki. The print on a Diane Von Furstenburg blouse in Saks. The way Kate Spade presents their merchandise. It doesn't matter what it is, if I like it, I take a picture of it or write it down. This usually means I am stopping to take photos every three minutes and subsequently driving my husband insane. It is what it is.
Narrowing it down. Being a lover of all things creative, I have a hard time picking just one style. Yes, clearly I love bright and bold and loads of sequins, but I also love an edgier touch. Southwestern prints. Dark, masculine colors. So, just like our wedding, picking a "color scheme" just wasn't in the cards. I decided to opt for a vibe. Just which vibe, since I have many faucets to my design sense! That's where Pinterest came in. I started a "brand my brand" board and instead of looking for things that would "be great for my website" (because if I did that it would have been a broad spectrum and defeated the purpose) I focused on pinning things that spoke to me. That tugged at my heart strings. After posting 309 pins and counting, I decided to look through the board and focus on the repeating elements. That way, if I pinned something very similar more than once, then I know it is apart of my core style. Like balloons, lots of white, bright colors, and laid-back glam. This was also a great place that I kept graphic elements that inspired me so when the time came I had a reference point to incorporate into my site. It's hard to not get distracted by ALL the things I love and want to use something completely random in the mix, but I have to stay focused now....
Looking to inspirations. After I realized that looking at other photographer's sites was hindering my creative spirit, I decided to turn my direction elsewhere and look to what my favorite fashion designers and cutting-edge graphic designers were doing. I drew lots of inspiration from retailers that inspire me from every aspect (Juicy, Diane Von Furstenburg) and looked to my favorite interior and design blogs to wrap my head around layouts and graphic elements. Slowly I started to mentally narrow down looks like I liked, but still have no real clue how I wanted to layout my website. That's where less thinking and more doing came into play. I have always wanted both an "inspiration" wall in my office and a wall of photos (that also inspire me), so I took the opportunity to knock the project off my "to do" list and hopefully kick-start my creativity. I did not plan the original "inspiration" wall layout, and just went to town adding things that I was drawn to. It wasn't until a week or two after it was up that I realized "this is how my brain thinks. Very organized and strategic, so it would only make sense for my website layouts to be similar to these!" Hence my homepage photo layouts (and overlapping of elements) look like my inspiration wall and my image galleries look like my photo wall. I had to take the things I loved and make them my own (like the graphic elements and layouts from my favorite blogs and catchy sayings).
Picking a website. THIS! This this THIS was probably the hardest aspect of the project, choosing a website provider. When it came to the design and functionality of a site I knew EXACTLY what I wanted and to me, I didn't think they were lofty requests by any means, but for some reason I had the hardest time finding a company that had everything I was looking for. For me, the biggest things were:
-Functionality: I wanted something that not only was user friendly to build on my own, but also worked seamlessly to a viewer. Fast loading, clickable links, fits web browsers, etc. The whole time I was thinking "why can't someone just build something like Apple would make? Easy and intuitive that works fantastic". Why is that so hard??
-Fully customizable: I don't have a problem with templates what-so-ever, and I love templates that you can change, but many company's claim to have "fully customizable templates" when really all you can change are the colors. I wanted something where I could change anything I wanted or, do what I did and start from scratch.
Fffordable: I wanted something that wouldn't break the bank.
-No hoopla: Easy, great customer service, attention to detail, help when I need it.
-HTML: I like to look towards what my ideal client is doing, what sites they are visiting, and where the creative industry is going, and to me, that is in a HTML direction. Same applies to the fashion designer's websites that I love. Since I enjoy staying on-trend, I wanted my website to reflect that and it was of the utmost importance to not only have a HTML style site, but a version that looked good on all browsers and mobile devices.
-Pin-a-bility: Pinterest is where it's at today. Actually, a lot of my layouts are inspired by Pinterest (for good reason! Their research about human psyche is on point!). It was important to me that the website company I use allow for my images to be pinned.
After googling until my little fingers couldn't google anymore, I decided on ImCreator.com. Although it has a few building quirks (I was able to look past them), it provided me with everything I was looking for, all for $10/month! I haven't had the service long, but so far I am thrilled. I found several other companies in the process, so depending on what you're looking for you may find what would best suit you here.
Making a move. From the moment I realized I needed a new website to the minute it launched, it was over the course of a year. NOT EVEN KIDDING YOU. Somewhat because it was daunting, but mostly because I wasn't sure what I wanted and thought I should wait until I could really pay a professional to do it. At the time this frustrated me, and when I realized that the only graphic designer I ever wanted to hire wouldn't be available for a while I decided it was time to take action myself. There was no sense in waiting around any longer. I sat down and started working, changing things and coming up with ideas as I went along. I'm thankful I did because having a new website is like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders! Who knew?!?!
Quick tidbits I learned and used:
-Most brides are viewing your website from work. Trust me, I was one of them. I learned that any music or video that immediately began when your website started usually scares the bejesus out of someone (which inspires someone to quickly "x" off of your site) and gets them busted at work. I decided to include video, but give the option of whether or not to play it.
-Be where your clients are online. I thought including my pinterest and instagram would be too much, but then I realized I want my clients to really get to know me and establish a connection. Not to mention that's where they are spending their internet time (not unlike me!). So, I featured my accounts. It helps to do research on your ideal clients and the sites they use, the info can help you in more ways than one!
-Make sure things function smoothly. Nothing drives me crazier than having to have instructions on how to use your website. Make it as easy as possible for people to use, that lowers the chances of them getting confused and frustrated and "x"-ing it off.
-Think like you think. Take a minute to think about websites you visit and what works for you/what doesn't.
-Use .PNG files. The only "design elements" I used from the Imcreator site database were the "Ashley Goodwin Weddings" title font and menu, and the galleries. Everything else I designed myself in photoshop. When it came to the .jepg photos of myself, I directly imported them into the website, and then overlayed them with my own .PNG files (a type of file that has a transparent background. Instead of .jpeg it's a .png) to create the "buttons". Much easier for changes within my layout.
-Just start playing around. Lordie lordie. If anyone saw what the original ideas were for my website they would laugh so hard. I had to try a few ideas before I got to where I wanted, but the important thing is to not settle and don't stop until you are proud to hit publish!
Hopefully my long, drawn out thought process has helped you narrow down a great way to jazz up your online presence either via yourself or with a designer. Just know, it can be done, and by you, even if you feel like you don't have any graphic sensibility, you just has to listen to your gut and your creative eye. And it doesn't have to cost a fortune. Don't wait for things to be perfect, just work hard to make them you.