Orange & Grey

So, I’ve created a few websites in my time, some are mortally embarrassing to recall as they involved lens flare, animated gifs and frames… shudder! However they were a product of their time and I’m sticking with that justification.

I’ve been using Joomla a lot recently and it gets you a long way… but my god there is still so much to do to get a website just right. I had the opportunity to test myself recently when a good friend asked me to design and create a complete website for his new car dealership.

We discussed some design fundamentals and were both struck by the perfection of this image…

It let us to conclude that Grey and Orange were to be the palette for colours on the website… which meant that the text was going to have to be white (I don’t personally like website backgrounds to be anything other than white but I was persuaded this was a good idea). From there it was a case of choosing a clean and simple font (Calibri), designing a logo and then taking it from there.

If we hadn’t found that image and decided on the palette it would have been an infinitely harder task and I was so glad we decided on it early. I’ll make sure that for any future websites that I get these fundamentals right as soon as possible.

Once a suitable Joomla template was found then the structure of the site took shape incredibly quickly. But it was only when I spotted a big issue on stock that I realised how big this task was going to be. To create a new car on the website needed the following…

  • Joomla module for the highlights tab on the front page with custom sized image
  • Joomla article for the stock listing page with custom sized image
  • Joomla article for the RSS stock listing with custom sized image
  • Joomla article for the main car listing
  • Joomla module for the 14 images of the car in a lightbox gallery
  • Joomla menu item
  • Joomla module menu item

This was ignoring scary questions like “how do I list all the cars on the stock listing page in price order” and “when a car is sold how do we move it to the bottom of the listings”.

It would have been possible to train the “customer” on how to build all of these Joomla articles but it would have been a total and utter nightmare to publish new stock or change things like price. I’d have had to provide template articles which he’d somehow put things like price and description and mileage into and then save as new articles, urgh it would just never have worked.

So, I needed to write a stock management application. This wasn’t too bad actually… you put all of the information into preset fields, choose the 14 photographs and push the “Publish” button and it creates all the Joomla articles directly into the database. I wrote it in C# and it seems to fit the bill perfectly. Because Joomla is database driven it is pretty easy to create new database fields that relate to articles and menus etc. The only issue will be in the future when a module or Joomla update comes along I’ll have to update the application. To mitigate this I used text template files for the articles that can be easily updated outside of the application.

Some key things I’ve learned…

  1. Sometimes Joomla doesn’t do something you want it to do. But before going in and updating some of the standard Joomla libraries consider what happens every time a Joomla patch comes out
  2. I hate Internet Explorer more than nearly anything. You have two approaches to web coding, you could try to make it work in every browser as you create any new content. Or, as I do, you can make it look perfect in something like Chrome then look at it in other browsers and try to fix things. Either way is painful.
  3. Getting the font and colours simple and right initially has allowed everything to easily flow from there. Want car rear window stickers? Want tax disk holders? Want showroom signage? Well if you’ve got your colours and fonts correct and simple from the very beginning then all of these are so much easier. This leads to…
  4. Keep it simple. I know it’s obvious, but the temptation to add more colour or content is just bad. I specifically went through each page once a week and removed any superfluous colours or words.

It took a couple of months of part time work to get finished and there are still things I’d like to tweak but I’m really pleased with the overall result. And initial customer feedback has been amazing with comments like “The reason I bought the car from you is because of your website and car photographs”.

When my friend originally asked me to help I immediately said “no” as I knew I was extremely obsessive about making a website perfect – and there is no such thing on the internet, I’m glad I changed my mind.

Here is the homepage of the website and you can visit it here.