Monday, October 26, 2009

It Lives!!! (the long version)

As I mentioned in my previous post, aka, the short version, my new website is now up and running ->

Now that it is, I'd like to blather on a bit about why I did the rebuild and what I was thinking when I was making the UI decisions for it. One of the things I asked myself a lot while I was in the middle of building it was why was I going through all this work? Wasn't there a better/easier/faster way?

Why would I reinvent the wheel when I could have simply paid for a more generic content website, or got some open source code to futz around with, or used something like, or tried to get a Shopify site or an Etsy site to work for me? Basically, I ended up reinventing the wheel because every time I tried to go in an off-the-shelf direction, they were always missing a feature or two that I needed (such as gallery tracking or sold status or tagged searching), or they would have taken just as long to set up as it would have for me just to program my own site (open source software), or they ended up being too expensive. (Professional artist's studio management software can cost upwards of $500 per month. Yikes. Hopefully it does your taxes for you too.)

In the middle of that process, when I was second guessing my decision to build it myself, I would review my goals and the minimum set of features they entailed, just in case I could drop one or figure out a work-around and get a faster solution. In the end though, the alternatives were always found wanting, so I just kept chugging away on my own version.

Of course, I didn't actually make a set in stone list of those goals; the most I had were a bunch of scribbled notes in my sketchbooks. The overall list probably mutated in my mind over the course of the last six months or so, but here are the main goals that were (probably) always there and never went away:
  1. Easier Content Updates - Make the site more interesting and informative for people who follow my art by making it easier for me to update the content. If it's easy for me to go to my site and log in and add a new painting, or edit something about an artwork, then I'll post new content a lot more often, making it much more worthwhile for people to come back to my site and use it more often.
  2. Better Navigation - Make it easier for people to navigate through the artwork. Now, instead of constantly trying to figure out where they are in a large tree of categories, they can just click 'next' to see the next piece, or they can search for something specific that they'd like to see, like 'canoe'. To realize this goal, I decided I should have tagged searching on the artwork instead of having to put every piece into a category. For example, if I have a painting with a canoe by a lake with a tree, I no longer have to decide whether to put it in the 'lake' category vs. the 'canoe' category vs. the 'tree' category (is the lake more prominent, or the canoe, or the tree?) I can now add tags to the piece for all three terms and it will show up in a search that includes any one of those search terms. Woohoo!
  3. Galleries and Status - Allow visitors to see if a piece is at a gallery and where that gallery is and to see what's sold vs. what's available. This also allows me to use the site to track my inventory and much more easily keep track of where all of my paintings are and which ones are sold. This is actually kind of important from a business efficiency standpoint, because keep track of where every piece is and what it's status is can very quickly becomes a crazy shell game if I just use the accumulating pile of shipping and receiving lists. Even with a single gallery there are multiple overlapping transactions: I'll send them some, they'll sell some, I'll send them some more, I'll take a few back, they'll sell a few more, I'll send them some more, etc. It's just really easy to lose track, and if I can easily update the location and the status of the pieces on a small set of pieces every time I send some out, it will make my life easier and more efficient, which gives me more time to paint. Yay!
  4. Shows and Events - Make it easier for me to update events, and therefore easier for visitors to find out where I'm going to be showing - I don't need to futz around with the HTML any more for my show and event listings, because the app will now automatically figure out which list to put them in -> coming up, on now, or past events. This saves me time and reduces stress. Also Yay!
  5. Easier Design Revisions - Make it easier for me to modify the design or the behaviour of the site. This is similar to goal number 1, but basically, it's now easier for me to work with this site. For all you techno-dorks out there, it's built using the ASP.NET MVC architecture with the LINQ to SQL ORM, and there are no tables in the HTML, so I can change the design using the css. This is much more powerful and easier to use than my old super-clunky home-made HTML generator template system, which seemed to make every job require as many clicks as possible. (Ugh.)
  6. Finally, KEEP IT SIMPLE - avoid the bells and whistles. When developing this site, it was really really tempting to add slick looking things like image gallery sliders and animators and magnifiers and exploding drop down menus and AJAX data candy widgets and all kinds of the new funky stuff that the inter-tubes web is now full of, but I had to keep myself from adding them, simply because the goal of the website is to make it easier for people to view my artwork, not to make cool software. The artwork is the prime attraction. Fancy web kit doesn't necessarily make it easier to view, and it can take a lot of work to set up. It also just tricks people into thinking that I'm a cool programmer guy. I'm pretty sure that people coming to my site don't really care about whether or not I'm a cool programmer guy, and if I think about it pragmatically, I only make money when I sell paintings. I don't make any when I pretend that I'm such a great programmer. Which I'm not, by the way => I'm actually an old fuddy duddy grumpy pants who complains about the kids on his lawn. ;)
So, there's the long detailed story. Hopefully you've found it interesting and I haven't put you to sleep. I'll have a new post soon about why I decided I needed a new website, but more from the perspective of trying to build a career as an artist instead of the specific details. Till then, have a good one!


  1. Marcel - it's a pleasure to see the work of your hands - feels like you've learned how to empty yourself each day (this is a good thing). Congrats on the new site, too!

  2. Thanks Carl! I've never thought of it that way, but that is an interesting way to look at it. I'm sure I've adopted organizing principles at certain points along the way, but I think they all fade out eventually, and the only one that I think of right now is trying to stay focused on quality and speed.