Data-driven Web Sites

OK, so it’s the new thing. But when does it make sense to use a database server? Let’s take a look at the basics.

What is database-driven?

Basically speaking, a database-enabled web site allows you to customize your content for specific users, or to serve up customized information to answer a specific question by a specific user, e.g., which members or agents or salons are located in California or Ohio, or which are located in a
specific 3- or 5-digit zip code? Note that data can refer to text, numeric, or even date information.

Many organizations today already have mission-critical information arranged in databases. Enabling a web site to serve database information can add immense value to your web communications, This can very easily complement and support your customer service program, and typically reduces your
overall customer service costs while increasing the value you bring to your customer.

Databases have been ushered into the worldwide web through an ever-increasing number of stable yet versatile tools that allow site developers to capture the power of databases. Applications such as PHP, MySQL, Ruby on Rails, and XML combine with standard HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to create powerful yet elegant sites. These applications have the added attraction of being freeware; they are in the public domain so do not require a fee for the license to use the application.

How do I know whether it’s right for me?

It is a good question. Those that only need a very small, simple site often need only a “static” site, i.e., each page is hard-coded and never changes.

Those who have multiple items that each consist of multiple pieces of similar types of data are more often opting for an XML implementation.

Those who wish to display complex information or who already have their information organized in a relational database use tools such as php or Ruby to query (communicate with) a database management system (DBMS) such as MySQL or Oracle to display their data as requested.

Some organizations run their entire large web site using database technology; others only need a portion of their site to be database-driven. The benefits include:

  • streamlining business processes and procedures
  • becoming more responsive to your users
  • reducing the amount of people needed to manage business processes
  • reducing the cost of the business services, thereby becoming more competitive

But again, the best way to determine if your whole site, or a portion of your site, can benefit from database technology is to review your content and site goals with your designer before work begins. To learn more about the advantages of site planning, read Constructing User-Centered Websites. If you’d like to talk more about our database services, contact or 513.677.3887 for more information.

Data-driven Examples

  • Collection of Data from Forms
  • Dynamically sorted information
  • Employee contact information
  • Events Calendars
  • Frequently updated content
  • Gallery displays
  • Membership directories
  • Product inventories
  • Sales of Product (eCommerce)
  • Secure Online payments
  • Usernames and passwords managed

User-Centered Design

Slam-dunk site building methods for the user experience

You’ve found the site, now you need one piece of information that you’re sure is there. But where? After several clicks into a maze of dead-end and wrong way streets, you give up. You scream, “I can’t find the information I’m looking for!” So you leave the site, another disappointed user left stranded and frustrated on the Information Stupor Highway. We believe that Websites need to be intuitive and predictable. Structured according to the mental model of the user.

Building the prototypes

Long before the finished product is uploaded to the host server, we model a site’s structure by creating two types of construction: wireframe and graphical.

These preliminary structures serve as prototypes. The wireframe rests on ActiveCanvas’ development server. The graphic prototype is delivered via static images.

Wireframe Prototype

The wireframe prototype includes text, structure, and navigation but not graphics. It allow us to concentrate on the copy and framework of the site without being influenced by it’s look and feel. As with any prototype, the wireframe can change through successive iterations.

Graphical Prototype

Graphics are constructed and placed within the site structure. Nonsense text is inserted where text would normally be. This allows us to focus on the look and feel without being distracted by the text.

How users view a site

Information is placed in the wireframe according to how individuals typically view information. For example, users usually look first at the headlines, then the article summaries, and then captions, and ignore graphics. Concise meaningful titles and headers help the user understand the content and meaning of a Web page. They ignore information low on the page, or anything that looks like advertisement.

In organizing the content, we keep the number of user clicks to a minimum to avoid user confusion. And we keep the navigation scheme visible throughout so the user always knows where they are on any page.

How users read a site

A concise style of writing is vital. Text is written to be scanable. Tone is objective, not promotional. We use highlighted words, bullet lists, and one key idea per paragraph when possible.

Once the client approves the wireframe and graphical prototypes, we combine all the elements into the final version.

Everyone benefits

This site building method is good for the designer because the wireframes and graphical prototypes takes less time to build. Changes are easier and no time is wasted. In fact, it speeds the final phase of the project by practically eliminating further iterations.

It’s good for the client because it provides a simple interface for the approval process. In the wireframe, clients pay attention to language and accuracy. In the graphical prototype they aren’t distracted with the copy. It helps everyone on the project team focus on the original site goals.

Ultimately, it’s good for the user. And that’s where the rubber meets the road.