Here are my top ten considerations when designing a new skin (the way the website looks, which overlays the actual coding "like a skin") for Age of Intrigue:
1. Senior Eyes: Font Size
One of het main requests I've had from users was to please could the fontsize be larger. I am not just teasing when I say this is a primary concern in our community especially, due to increased age. We are no longer teenagers. Many of us are past the age of 35 though few would admit it. This means that our eyes are slowly failing us, and at least the availability of a larger font is high on the wishlist so that text is easy to read and doesn't tire us too soon. However, even teenagers like larger fonts. Readibility is a top concern in skin design. Tip: you can increase or decrease the font by using the A button on the right hand side of the navigation bar.
2. Enough contrast between colours
This is also an issue of readibility & visibility, not just for aging eyes, but for the colourblind. One our users depends on the webmaster to keep the site accessible by providing enough contrast in tone between the colours. Remember that old exercise in art class where you must provide different shades of grey from light to dark with a single pencil in about five steps or blocks? If two colours are of the same tone, basically the same block of grey, they will be difficult to differentiate to a colourblind person. A site that uses different tones is also perceived as prettier and easier to use by non-handicapped users so it is a win for everybody.
3. Not too much contrast between colours
Not all colours fit together. I see a lot of sites when advertising for the game and I can tell you that one of the most annoying things to look at is glaring colours that hurt the eyes in that particular combination, usually colours directly opposite of each other on the colourwheel in the same tone. It is better to increase visibility by using different tones than to use truly contrasting colours. Tip: you can view sets of colours that go well together on sites like http://www.colorschemer.com/online.html .
The skin contains graphics that you will see for a long time, sometimes several hours at a time. Any flash images are therefore annoying, as are, in my humble opinion, chatboxes that are directly visible on the main site. They are distracting from the main purpose of the boards which is reading and writing. This is one of the reasons why we have discouraged the use of pictures in threads as well.
5. Ease of Use
Ease of use, or the way in which the skin represents features of the boards that we use, is a very important consideration that needs a lot of experimenting and asking our users for feedback. Little adjustments are still being made when a request is put in to the Technical Forums. We have the new post link in the navigation bar now, plus we removed the “jump to the next forum” link that was overlapping with the moderator tools. Tip: if you have an idea for an improvement, ask in the Technical Q & A forum.
6. Loading Time
There are two considerations here: 1) a number of people all around the world are still on dial up. You remember dial up and how slow it was especially when dealing with graphics? 2) an increasing number of people are using smartphones to use peruse the internet. It is new, it is hip but it brings back old problems. Yep, graphics again as the main offenders. In short a skin should be able to load fast and thus can't be as graphic intensive as we'd like. Flash is definately out (again), as are certain scripts. We have also discouraged using many or large pictures in threads or signatures. Having pictures hosted on our wiki instead of a third party host also increases the swiftness of our site. Tip: you can check the loading speed of your website with free online apps.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Yet we all know instinctively what is ugly. It is all about colour coordination, lines of design, sharp images. Likely by taking into account all of the above the skin already goes a long way towards being pretty, but it needs that little extra, the artistic touch.
Your skin should be tailored to the theme of your site. This may seem obvious but it is oft forgotten. In the case of our baroque site it means certain colours but also putti, curls and above all graphics that play a role in our game such as Windsor castle. This is why a new season will usually see a new skin for the game. Tip: do you have an idea what would be good graphics for our next skin? Your suggestions are always welcome at the Technical Q&A forum.
You don't want a site that looks like any other site. How would you know that you are at Age of Intrigue? We have taken great care to ensure that for instance the icons used to mark threads are unique to our game, including a so called flavicon which shows up in the address bar.
Last but not least. Any skinrequest must be within the technical skills of your webmaster, yours truly. I have learned a lot over the last two years, but I'm still a beginner. Sometimes I'll just have to admit that we can't be as amazing as some of other sites which are frequently run by ICT professionals who run a gaming site on the side. I'm not