Basics: The tells

Young girl with binoculars

There are tiny little tells that give away what you are looking at when you view a website, much like there are signs on a poker player’s face indicating the hand they are playing.

These tells can be very important in terms of you being able to communicate what it is you want/need from your online presence, to evaluate your competitors’s online presence(s) and to identify the qualities of sites you  identify with, aspire to and/or want to incorporate into any brief for your own online presence.

This post will only cover the very, very basics of the tells – it’s not going to be granular in terms of the  media, back end and development required to produce the final output (that is something a developer and a designer would analyse and advise on, perhaps after a discussion with someone like me).

Static site

Screenshot of

Screenshot of (Accessed 25 June 2011).

The “.html” (or .htm) in the browser address bar indicates it’s a html page, your bog standard static web page. Yes, there are moving bits and pieces and a loading screen, it is still a static page.

Just in case you were wondering or getting confused: static = content on the page can only be changed on the page itself; dynamic = content on the page can be changed in a database containing chunks of information that are used to populate the page with information (so to change the content on the page, you change the content in the database and not the page itself)

The pretty bells and whistles are because someone has embedded an interactive flash object within the html page – you can navigate to different things within that interactive asset, but you won’t leave /main.html because that is where the flash object is located.

  • You are going to have to wait for the flash object to load before you can access any content on this site
  • If you don’t have flash player or the version of the flash player required to play this object,  you are going to see a prompt screen to download the player. This type of interaction can also be done with HTML 5 but that is a relatively recent development, the page suffix (html or .htm) would be the same.
  • If you need to update the content in the flash object, unless that pulls content from outside of the object then you will be paying for the developer to do that for you

Online retailer

Screenshot of ASOS site

Screenshot of the Women's section of (Accessed 25 June 2011).

Apart from the massive summer sale banner, you can see:

  • a shopping cart status in the top right of the screen (dead giveaway this is basically the online equivalent of a store front)
  • a postal offer and a discount offer to specific types of customers in the banner just below the header
  • a range of categories and multiple ways of organising products (garment type, sale, items which have just hit the site (if I am a regular visitor I want to be able to see this easily) for customers to find. Other options further into the site are to display specific size(s) or price range(s)

As soon as you see the cart, it’s a bit of a giveaway, in terms of how this is executed we need to look a little further into the site

asos screen shot showing it is an aspx page

Screenshot of the Women's SALE section of (Accessed 25 June 2011).

You’ll see alot of the design and structure is replicated within the SALE subsection. You will also note that in the URL at this level you can see the file suffix is “.aspx” – this means this is a dynamic page with a database supporting it. Another suffix that would indicate that is “.php”.

Asos is a massive online retailer selling internationally, it is likely this is a custom system built specifically for their business and not an off-the-shelf option.


Blogs are curious beasts – a blog is one type of content management system. They have a lot of functionality for customisation, so it can be hard to pick them.

Did you realise you were reading one right now? I have only addressed the basics in terms of look and feel and my customisation is limited to what is free and available at this stage, although I will likely start playing with this over time.

Here are two other examples of blogs

1) Designsponge: interior / lifestyle blog

screenshot for

Screenshot of designsponge (Accessed 25 June 2011).

Note the highlighted posted by and comment flags, this one is probably one of the more tricky ones to pick, but it has posts in date order which are organised into different categories (so if you are only interested in DIY and not recipes or anything else on the blog, you can go straight to the DIY posts.)

2) DesiretoInsire – interior design blog

screenshot of

Screenshot of desiretoinspire (Accessed 25 June 2011)

You can see the posted dates and the comments, you can also subscribe to an RSS feed – with content posted up on an ongoing basis, you may want to be notified when a new post is live rather than coming back and checking manually.

Complex content management system

Vogue Australia have alot of bases to cover and alot of complex content to organise, upload, curate (news items, photographs of collections by specific designers during specific fashion season and more, since they cover lifestyle, beauty, travel and more…). You can see how they organise the content and try to expedite their visitors to reach the right sections as quickly as possible given the complexity of the site on their front page :

Screenshot of vogue australia home page

Screenshot of Vogue Australia (Accessed 25 June 2011)

And how it is reflected in a feature article on the site:

Screenshot of Vogue Feature Story

Screenshot of Vogue article Vogue Brazil's Constanza Pascolato ages in style (Accessed 25 June 2011)

The URL indicates it is a complex content management system – there are many options available although there is usually a significant outlay involved. These complex c0ntent management systems enable large businesses with different operational centres to workflow and manage online content on a wide scale.

A bit on the side 😉

You will note that the Designsponge, DesiretoInspire and Vogue Australia have all reserved some of their design real-estate for display advertising. From that, it is obvious that part of their online presence brief was to ensure they could leverage advertising revenue and had the ability (and flexibility) to monetise areas of their screen real-estate to that end.


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