Websites for Architects
This is ARCHIdigms second year on the Internet and this year we at ARCHIdigm have found that an architectural Website can be broken up into two primary facets. Though there are quite a number of technical issues regarding the functionality and success of a site, we see the two primary facets as Front End and Back End.
In our first year, we focused primarily on the Front End of our site. It is the natural place for graphically minded people to spend their energy, however, we soon discovered that what looks good on one machine by one person may not display, at all, on another machine. So, within the first facet, the Front End, there are numerous technical issues regarding functionality and presentation; i.e., Netscape vs. Internet Explorer, resolution size, range of colors, contrast, legibility, custom fonts, etc.
In our second year, as we were cleaning up the first years Front End, we began looking into the second facet: the Back End. The Back End of an architects web site involves the common website publication problems (such as getting listed on search engines) but also something a bit more unique and field specific (such as client and sub-contractor interaction). Having had the opportunity to manage the digital repository on a major multi-thousand square foot historic building, we hope to be able to share some good insights and tips on a very significant component of an architects website.
The Front End
Presentation, Organization and Information
For those in the graphic business this is such an open subject for "flaming" that there is really little reason to broach the subject. Everybody has an opinion. Weve heard nearly every form of praise and criticism on our own evolving Website that we realize that theres just no pleasing everyone and the only good rule is your own judgement. Despite what you may think of our attempts at presentation, we hope that you see challenges to common myths within the Website building community. For example, "images must be small"; well, we agree that the amount of memory a file consumes is an issue but that has little to do with image scale.
On the technical side of the Front End, there are numerous surprises. Netscapes Browser and Microsofts Browser do not necessarily read HTML formatting in the same way. This means, for example, that you may have a great looking graphic layout when viewed on Internet Explorer but a poor and sloppy looking layout in Communicator. This means that, as a Website author/creator, you will need to have both Browsers and test your work regularly. In our Exploratorium, for example, we have a little do-dad called "flipping squares"; it works great within Internet Explorer but malfunctions within Communicator.
Another technical matter has to do with your expected target audience and their equipment. If you suspect that there are people in your target audience with 800x600 resolution monitors and 256 colors, then you should consider that in your layout. I recently met with a new client who wanted to see some of my examples. I loaded his I.E. 4.0 browser and visited the ARCHIdigm.com site only to discover that his brand new 1999 21" monitor was set to 800x600 resolution and 256 colors. In addition to that mess, his contrast and brightness were set low so the ARCHIdigm Website basically looked like a black inkwell. Though I quickly remedied the situation, we cant reach out of our Websites and make appropriate adjustments to everyones systems.
The Back End
The marketing of an architects Website begins at home. Look at all promotional items that leave the office and add your URL to them. Tell everyone you come in contact with to visit your site.
Search Engine Listing
On-line marketing of an architects Website is where the real work begins. Getting listed on Yahoo is a serious step in the right direction. Once you have gotten yourself listed there, you will show up on numerous other search engines that defer to Yahoos pages and categories. From there the work just continues and evolves like a game of digital logistics. The more places you can get your name and URL, the greater the likelihood of being found via searches. The greater the traffic on the sites you get listed on, the greater your personal exposure. Often your own provider can be a significant contributor to your hit count.
In addition to getting hits, what is found should be sensible. Using ARCHIdigm.com as an example, if a page has a name such as "Front_desk", that name says very little to someone mining for information on the Internet and they may simply pass right by your listing. However, changing the name to something like, "ARCHIdigm - providing AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop, 3D Studio Max, Allplan, Web and system support for architects and those in the A/E/C industry" should prove to be a little more informative and eye catching. We are currently experimenting with such lengthy page names and have discovered that some search engines truncate, so you may want to keep your page names a bit shorter.
Another Source for acquiring Hits
There is a great deal more work to creating a successful site with respect to acquiring hits and plenty of sources for better information on this subject matter; heres one that we recommend: http://www.deadlock.com/promote/search-engines/faq.html.
Specifics for architects and those in the A/E/C industry
Once a firm creates a Website they also create a virtual server for the public at large. Basically, you rent hard-drive space on your ISPs (Internet Service Provider) Internet Server. In some firms, usually the large ones, they act as their own ISP.
The significance of this virtual server is that it provides you and your sub-contractors, clients and all other interested parties with a point of reference and exchange; a component of project management.
Two Ways to use your ISP for Project Management and Exchange
Generally, your ISP should provide you with an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site as part of their Website hosting service (and at no extra charge). The FTP site has been around for many years now and is a common site in larger offices. This type of site is similar to a Website in that you are simply renting a certain amount of hard-drive space from your ISP. The FTP site, however, is not a Website and is simply designed to act like your own hard-drive (like "C:/ ", for example ). You can manage it much like your own hard-drive by creating folders to store data about numerous different things that you want to share with others. Sometimes I use the ARCHIdigm FTP site to take information that I have gathered on the road and place it where I can retrieve it later.
Though an FTP site can be viewed through a Browser, you must have an FTP program to really manage it. I recommend the following program for FTP use and management: http://www.ipswitch.com/products/ws_ftp/index.html - This program is much like Microsofts Explorer and supports drag-n-drop techniques.
Once you have an FTP site, you can upload any and all files from your system and make them available to others for downloading. In turn, they can upload any and all files to your FTP site and you can download them at your convenience. Check with your ISP or IT person about matters of external uploading to your FTP site and about SECURITY issues. Some ISPs do not provide security for downloading off of your FTP site and thus anyone can get your files. Also, uploading to your FTP site can be equally troublesome and open for public misuse. ARCHIdigms ISP provides a non-secure download FTP site but a secure upload folder to prevent public misuse. This means that only ARCHIdigm staff members can access the upload folder when looking to download files.
Though an FTP site has been and continues to be a standard in the industry, we at ARCHIdigm find it lacking in numerous ways, so we developed a better way to provide data to our clients, sub-contractors and other interested parties by using our Website.
By using a Website, you can manage the information and the delivery of it via your Web Page designer / authoring tool (We use Microsofts FrontPage 98). This means that you can also present information in a format far more familiar and intuitive to those who may visit your project site. These days, so many people from so many different fields may have need to access project information that the broader you can spread the same information, the less redundancy you have in re-interpreting it. We at ARCHIdigm, regularly publish DWF files alongside the regular DWG files; thus providing everyone with a Browser the ability to read the latest drawings. We also provide VRML models if 3D modeling is involved. Contact information and numerous other project specific data can easily be posted and managed, as well.
There are, of course, some drawbacks to this methodology. It requires Web authoring and publishing skills. It requires attention to details and constant supervision (as data is published, the site must reflect that or no one will know about it). There is no uploading capability other than general text based feedback. You can, however, create links to an FTP site so visitors can upload to that instead.
We believe that the benefits of using a custom Website structure for Project Management far outnumbers the drawbacks and thus we offer this type of Custom Website structuring and development as part of our expanding service. By combining this structure with an FTP site and standard e-mail practices, it is sure to be a far superior form of communication than relying on only FTP site exchange and/or e-mail.