February 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

Free design tools help small web sites live large, King Arthur Flour finds

With limited resources and a small staff, King Arthur Flour has found free and low-cost sources of inspiration and design tools online, director of e-commerce Halley Silver says.

Smaller e-commerce sites don’t typically have big resources for web development and design efforts, but there’s a wealth of free and low-cost design tools available to them online. Halley Silver, director of e-commerce at King Arthur Flour, shared dozens of those tools with attendees in a session this week at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability 2010 Conference.


Noting that King Arthur’s average order is about $10 and the average package it ships weighs about ten pounds, while the size of its design and development staff is “tiny,” Silver says King Arthur looks to do all its work in that area as inexpensively as possible. She and co-presenter Marshall Legett, senior user interface developer at DHap Digital Inc., offered up dozens of free and nearly-free web-based tools and inspiration sources for web designers.


Among those they cited for general design concept inspiration were the online Shift Magazine and Smashingmagazine.com, which aggregate design examples from other sites. Silver says she gets color palate ideas from Styleboost.com, which tags other sites by color; and Colorschemedesigner.com, which has a feature that lets designers view selected colors as they would look to color-blind individuals, a condition affecting 5% - 8% of men and therefore a potentially significant number of any site’s customers.


Type fonts-which Leggett called “candy for designers”-are available for viewing and using at sites such as Fonts.com, where more than 400 fonts are tagged as free to users; and Myfonts.com. Silver described a feature at Myfonts.com called WhattheFont, which allows designers to upload an image of a font they’ve seen but can’t identify. The feature can recognize and identify the font in many cases; when it can’t, there’s a message board where the font can be posted for identification by other designers.


Silver notes texture can add pop to a web page design and she and Legett listed some of their favorite sources for downloadable textures as Bittbox.com and Urbandirty.com, which offers downloadable, royalty-free background textures with an urban theme, such as concrete or peeling paint.


Noting that King Arthur’s traffic from mobile device users has quadrupled in the past year, Silver described Phonegap.com, a web-based, open source development tool for building mobile apps using JavaScript. However, from a design and development perspective, she added, there are as yet few options for testing designs on mobile devices.


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