Be An Employable Web Designer

In The Employable Web Designer, Andy Rutledge gives his take on how you can be ready for a real web design job coming out of college.

Now more than ever, it is a student’s responsibility to craft his or her own career preparedness in addition to, even in spite of, the plans and curricula defined by schools. This fact is especially true for aspiring Web designers, for every indication is that most higher education institutions don’t have the first clue about the interactive professions or how to prepare future professionals.

As a web craftsman, I think even seasoned web designers could take a look at this list of skills and traits that make a truly employable web professional. Pay close attention to the “Technology and Web Craft Skills” section since those items require constant reading, learning, and exploration.

I hope that this list and my suggestions help aspiring web designers to better craft their own preparedness and, if necessary, adjust their degree plans toward a more effective and responsible result.

Andy’s list is not only a great resource for aspiring web designers and developers, but I see it serving as a standard for all web professionals to live up to.

(Also, see my take on preparing for a career in web design, Learning Web Design, from 2006.)

Benefits of Plain English URLs

In Benefits of Plain English URLs, the folks at Gadgetopia have added more fuel for the fire of why you should use beautiful URLs. For me, any two of the many reasons should enough to convince the maker or your CMS or weblog software to make nice URLs a default in their setup.

When picking URLs, we envison [sic] someone at the client’s firm reading the URL to someone over the phone. How easy is it going to be?

I especially like this idea of reading someone the URL over the phone and asking them to write it down, remember it, or type as you read. Great URL design and implementation makes this interaction painless and pleasant.

Summit Hut Realign 2008

Update: Summit Hut did some redesigning this week, including a new logo, new color scheme, and some layout changes. I was not involved in these updates. Please see the screenshots below and on Flickr for a reference to the the site design before these changes.
—Lance, June 16, 2008

From the Recent Client Projects and I Should Have Blogged This Months Ago departments, I present a brief report on a website realign for Summit Hut.

I was fortunate to work with my great friend and mentor Aaron and several former coworkers from my days at the Hut (I worked there 2001–2005). The subject matter was close to my heart, and having worked on the website for a short period of time before leaving the company, I was thrilled to help with the task of realigning and recoding Summit Hut’s flagship website.

View screenshots, visit the live site, or for more details on the part I played in the realign, continue reading.

example screenshot 1

Disclaimer: Please note, I am not involved in the upkeep and production of code or graphics for Summit Hut; my role was to build a solid foundation for future development and visual merchandising. I did produce the first home page graphic (view screenshot), but the home page graphics and various and sundry sidebar callouts throughout the site have changed since the site launch in February 2008.

Notes and technical details

I was in charge of visual look-and-feel, basic interaction design, and coding the HTML and CSS for the page templates.


My goal was to create a mood that was simple, clean, and sophisticated with a subtle regional feel for Summit Hut’s location in the Southwest.

The visual tone took cues from Summit Hut’s in-store merchandising and signage. The chosen color palette, typography, and imagery were all tailored to match the wonderful feeling one gets when stepping into the company’s high-end retail shops. I intended visual chrome such as icons and buttons to produce a clean and professional look to match the company identity as a premier outdoor retailer.

Considerations included better readability, clearer navigation, enhancements to the display of vendor brands and product images, and improved product merchandising.

Merchandising an online store can be quite challenging, especially if you want to reflect how the real-life store works. There are really two parts to it: decorative and organizational. The first is extremely important since it conveys value and desirability to the products; the second provides a clear arrangement for easy searching, browsing, and choosing. My goal here was to remove obstacles and let customers figure things out easily while providing a pleasant, easy, and fun shopping experience.


The recoded page templates were probably the most urgent need; the former sported a table-based layout, spacer GIFs, and other typical markup-cluttering artifacts. Valid XHTML and CSS to the rescue! Building on Aaron’s solid programming and site framework, we worked together on producing lightweight and reusable HTML chunks (by reusable chunks I mean in the spirit of microformats). For the style sheets (CSS) I used principles of grid-based layouts and the excellent Blueprint CSS framework as a starting point for resetting and standardizing the layout, text treatment, and interaction messages.

All the benefits of standards-based development apply to the updated pages: faster loading times, code that is easier to read and update, improved usability and accessibility for traditional and non-traditional devices, as well as flexibility for future website features and visual changes.


Interactive design tasks for the realigned site centered on product browsing, selection, and the checkout process.

For purposes of keeping this report as brief as I can, let’s take the example of the product browsing and navigation. The previous product navigation involved a clunky accordion-style navigation on the left of every page. The new site splits the top-level navigation into a horizontal dropdown menu on every page, improves the search tool, and provides multiple ways to visually scroll through products. Product browsing can be in a list view or thumb view, and the sidebar menus allow you to drill down and refine the offerings easily.

example screenshot 2

The dropdown navigation for products was an important piece of this realign (view screenshot). The amount of products and product categories in Summit Hut’s online store makes the product navigation interaction a complex and difficult one. The information architecture is based on the store’s internal organization, which doesn’t always mimic how customers shop. The dropdowns provided a great way to simplify the complexity, and with Aaron’s excellent choice of jQuery (with the Superfish plugin), this interaction works wonderfully.

There were many, many, more improvements to Summit Hut website; I can’t list them all here, but you can view the old site on and then browse the current site to see for yourself.