Where To Begin?
There is nothing like having a real customer to help focus the mind on learning a new bit of software.
No, let me rephrase that.
There’s nothing like there being money involved to help focus the mind on learning a new bit of software.
When a customer approached me wanting to use Actinic Online for their online store, I had only really spent about 5 minutes clicking round the demo store vaguely seeing how it all fitted together. Now I had to properly learn it and implement a site using it.
The first challenge was coming up with a proposal and a price for the project. As I really didn’t know yet what I was going to be able to achieve design-wise, my first job was to figure out the layout options there were in Actinic Online and come up with a design that worked with them. Then I would have some sort of chance of coming up with a realistic cost for everything.
My first stop was to go to ‘Site > Site Design’ then I clicked the ‘Modify’ button and then clicked on the link marked ‘Use an Oxatis site design included in the subscription’.
There are 8 pages of pre-built themes that come with Actinic Online. They are all modern, clean and well-designed (quite an improvement on Actinic Desktop then!) but you cannot really get away from the fact that they are all, essentially, identical.
Every single design in Actinic Online will have a structure like this:
So you have a header area at the top, which includes the logo image but, more importantly, has a main horizontal navigation bar. Then you have a similar footer area at the bottom with another horizontal bar. And finally you have a sidebar that contains a vertical menu.
And that is pretty much all you have to play with when doing a design for Actinic Online.
I can hear the cries of outrage from here: “So inflexible!” “How can designers work with this?” “Down with this sort of thing!”
However, I am actually OK with it for the following reasons:
Firstly, the developers have taken the sensible decision of picking a basic layout which supports 80-90% of what every entry-level store will need.
Further to that. It’s all decently coded nicely marked up with CSS so you can get at everything by tweaking the stylesheet – which I’ll talk about in my next article.
Finally, having gone through the upgrade process a number of times on various Magento and CS-Cart stores, being able to get at the HTML of an online ecommerce system is a really mixed blessing. Yes, it’s nice to have total control, but every time an update comes out you waste a day in having to re-apply your designs to the latest set of templates. It’s a total nightmare. At least with this you don’t have that issue.
Anyway, based on the structure of Actinic Online stores, the design I came up with for the client is below. In the next article I’ll talk about how I went about coding it up.