Archive for month: August, 2014

Can a Silver Bullet Save a Unicorn?

28 Aug
August 28, 2014

Originally Posted on

Have you ever gone looking for a unicorn? They’re really hard to find now-a-days. Very reclusive. They don’t give interviews, and they never publish their addresses online. In fact, finding a unicorn is the closest thing to an impossible goal that there is.

For those of us in the web industry, a “unicorn” is that perfect website. You know the one I’m talking about—the one with the stunning design that makes everyone who sees it stop and marvel at the sheer brilliance of the mind that created such a wonderful thing. And the content! Words fail to describe the pure literary perfection. The message speaks to everyone in a way that is both deeply moving and compelling.

Yeah, I haven’t found that website either. But I keep looking. The problem is that everybody has different needs, interests, and goals. So while your website might be that perfect unicorn for one person, for someone else it might just be a donkey with a plunger stuck to its head.

Here I Come To Save The Day

Silver Bullet Just Ahead Green Road Sign and CloudsIt seems like everyone is looking for that magic silver bullet that will change the donkey into a beautiful unicorn. They are searching for the latest and greatest thing that will solve all of their website’s problems, all while helping their hair grow back, shine their shoes, and do the dishes. (Okay, maybe not that last one, but that would be so cool, wouldn’t it?)

The truth is that a silver bullet, magical or otherwise, is as much an impossible dream as catching that unicorn. Things come along all the time that do something really, really well, and then, for some reason, people try to get it do everything else. They try to make it into the silver bullet, promising wild claims about how great this new thing is, and how it will do anything and everything you could ever need or want. But it can’t.

There is no silver bullet. What you need instead is a whole box full of silver bullets.

Let Things do What They do Best

Over the last few years, several new technologies, like Responsive Web Design, jQuery, CSS, and Inbound Marketing —to name a few—have emerged that have fundamentally changed the web, helping clever designers, developers, and marketers build some truly incredible sites.

How do they do that? They take a little bit of time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each technology and use it to its fullest. Then they stop there. Could they make it do more? Sure. Would that be a good idea? Probably not. The cool thing is that so many of the things we use on the web play very well together. So don’t pick just one, thinking it will do everything. You have a box full of these options, allowing you to choose the ones you need, and use them well. Responsive web design is wonderful, but it won’t do a thing if you don’t have a good content strategy in place.Donkey-Plunger

But will it Save the Unicorn?

Now that you have done all of that work, found your box of silver bullets, and gotten them all loaded up, will that plunger-encrusted donkey become a unicorn? I’m sorry to say, probably not. Having the perfect website for everyone is —and always will be— unattainable. So stop trying to achieve that unreachable goal of perfection, and focus on building a great website for the people you are trying to reach: your target audience. It might not be a unicorn, but it won’t be a donkey either.

Structured Content in a Free-Form World

07 Aug
August 7, 2014

Originally posted on

Free-form content is so…free

It allows for the easy flow of ideas, and communication flies freely on the wings of the perfect word.

When I started working on the web, oh so many years ago, the idea of structured content didn’t exist. We all just wrote HTML. Everything went into a p tag, or—and I can’t belive we did this—a table (we were so young and naive back then).

Then I started working with a CMS. I would like to say that velvet ropes began to part and champagne fell from the sky, but the truth is, that free-form philosophy was still deeply ingrained. All the CMS did was give me a decent web interface in which to enter my HTML. And everything was fine, as long as I was the one in charge of entering and maintaining all of that content. Unfortunately, things went downhill quickly when other people started to get involved. We had headlines in pink, images with rainbow-colored callouts, pages with everything they could think of on them, and others with nothing—it was chaos.

That’s when I realized free-form content isn’t free. It has a cost.

It costs you control—unless you are the one doing everything, and who has time for that?

It costs you consistency—unless everyone is diligent, concientious, and actually pays attention to the style guides, and who is excited to do that?

It costs you time—and there’s never enough of that.

Structured content is so…restricted

It forces all of your nifty ideas into little boxes and fields, putting your perfect words behind bars.

Once I realized that free-form content wasn’t so great, I started taking a look at structured content. For Ektron, that meant smart forms. I may have gone a little bit overboard for a while. I put everthing into smart forms. A list of items? No problem, here is a smart form with a repeatable group box to build that for you. You want a hyperlink? We can do that. Here’s a form with three fields for you to fill out in order to get that link on the page.

It worked, kind of. The pink headlines went away, and the only rainbows on the site were in pictures of the sky after a rainstorm. But there was still no champagne falling from the sky, and not one velvet rope parted for me.

I realized that I had gone too far toward the other extreme, and it had a cost.

It cost us the freedom to be creative—and everyone wants that.

It cost us the ability to be flexible—and everyone needs that.

It cost a lot of trust—because each project is unique, and I couldn’t deliver.

Back away from the extremes and proceed smoothly down the middle

When I started working for WSOL, I found that they already had some great solutions for doing exaclty what I now know we should have been doing all along: find a middle ground between free-form and structured content. Smart forms to direct the users down the paths they need to go for consistency on the website, while still allowing for free-form content that plays well within that structure.

Would you like to have a tabbed interface? No problem! We have just the smart form to do that. How about multiple columns, which can include other content blocks? We have that covered too.

The great thing is that these experiences are not a complete failure if you learn something. My journey taught me that going to the extremes is rarely a good thing, and that what we need is a happy median, some middle ground, where we have the structure for consistency, but are still able to be creative.

Do you want to be able to edit your website with the confidence that you can add whatever content you want while still maintaining a stylistic consistency? Contact us to learn more about how we can help you find this happy medium, or feel free to leave a comment below and share any questions or comments you might have about structured vs. free-form content.