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Web Design -- How Not To Do It

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The past couple of weeks, I've been working with a big name drawing program, trying to get it to do what I want it to do, and unlearning how its major competitor did things before being eaten by said competitor. Well, mostly, I've learned the new program does things how it wants, and not how I want. But I am learning.

I tried something new: the 3D Effects tools. Well! That was actually kind of cool. But the 3D tools are limited in what they can do, and of course, one of the first things I did was to think of something they aren't quite designed to do. But, giddy with success at making the program do what I wanted, and seeing the possibility of more, I went out in search of an actual 3D program, one I could afford, that might do more of what I want to do.

I did find Blender, which is free and open source, but that's not what this is about either. I also found Inkscape, free and open source, and which (I hope) will be easier than the big name, too pricey upgrade, program that gets in my way every time I do something.

So, on to what this post is about: A web design gone wonky.

While looking, I asked at forums I visit and happened on a reply about a software vendor offering its major products for FREE for a limited time. Yes, seriously! Oh boy, I thought, here I come.

I hop to the site, put the freebies in the cart, and I'm prepared to check out. That requires registering. No problem, I'll do that. So I do the registration thing. It tells me it will send a confirmation / activation email, which I expected. Also no problem, I thought. Everything's grand, right? -- Except I can't complete the cart purchase process until it recognizes my registration. Well, shouldn't be a problem, I think. So I check my email. Nope, nothing. I check my spam folder. Nope, nothing. I go eat supper, come back and check again. Nada, Rien, Zilch. Huh, OK, we'll contact customer support and have them resend the email or straighten out the issue. Fine and dandy. -- Except in order to get to any contact info for the site, you have to login with your username and password. Oh, bother. -- Tomorrow, I will ask the oracles of the Google and the Wiki if there is a way to send a plea to the lofty software vendor's support staff, to get my registration completed and get my free stuff. Uh-huh. -- But no, this is not the way to win friends and influence people. This could be why they're willing to give away their software for a limited time. When and if I get to contact them, I will note that I couldn't get to their contact info, because for some unimaginable reason, they think it's only available to registered users, so if you have trouble registering, or if you're simply surfing by and want to say hello, tough luck. And you know, I'm not really sure I want to use software from a company that's that bad about customer relations or interface design. Otherwise, I would've given them a plug by saying what software it is. Notice I didn't give the other software a free plug either, though people who know me can guess that one. Notice I did give a free plug to two products that are better about how they do things.

The lesson is: Make your contact info available. Make things easy to get to. Provide links back to your major site areas. Keep it simple, but don't make it hard for your visitor to get where he or she wants to go.

I can also say I've dealt with people, often, who don't listen to good design advice or help sometimes from their own staff, other times from consultants, and then wonder why they don't have people as first time or returning visitors happy with their site (or book or magazine, etc.).

I'm really astonished to find a software website that won't let visitors have a simple contact email without first being registered users. What kind of nonsense is that? Who thought that made sense or was customer friendly? Wow.

It's about bedtime and still no email, either. I will try to contact them, simply because (a) their products are widely used and have a good reputation, and (b) I'm motivated to get something for free or a substantially reduced price. -- But it might not be worth the effort, given what I see there. My mind is boggled.

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Oh, it's legit. They're offering a few of their major software products for free for a "limited time," and hoping while you're at it, you'll buy some of the packages of pre-built 3D models tu use with the programs. I was planning to get at least one, because I could tell myself that was within my budget.

It's a major company, it's not a sham.

I went round with their site again, and it claims it's sent the activation email now twice, but either their system hasn't sent it or my system hasn't received it (has blocked it). I tried to get it to re-send the confirmation / activation email and to send a reset password email. I double-checked, and I didn't have a typo in the email address I gave. But when I tried to get past that to their link to contact them if I still had a problem -- 404 Page Not Found, customized so it's within the company's theme.

So, I've given up on them and thanked the person who gave the recommendation, with an explanation of what's happened.

TANSTAAFL -- Is exceedingly good advice, whether you're on the moon in the middle of a rebellion, or on earth or elsewhere. (For anyone who doesn't know, please read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. In fact, read several of his other books. The man was opinionated, had a few strange ideas, was a product of his times and education and work, but he could write some marvelously entertaining and thought-provoking science fiction tales, which shaped nearly all science fiction after him. Besides which, TANSTAAFL is good practical advice, whether engineering or everyday life. :)

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