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May 6, 2009 - 2 comments

Website Redesign: Photographers Randy Olson and Melissa Farlow

Randy Olson and Melissa Farlow are contributing photographers to National Geographic Magazine. They also happen to be very good friends and we just gave birth to a website together.

I'm proud to announce the Olson&Farlow website:


Just over a year ago, Randy decided they needed a new website and shortly after completing a very amazing job he was eager to create an online presence that went beyond the typical vanity website.

But after several discussions and a few design ideas it was clear they needed time to sort out what they really wanted from what they really needed.

Then a minor hell happened.

Randy and Melissa were members and supporters of DRR (our affectionate name for Digital Railroad). And as most photographers know, DRR met an untimely sad death last October. In a nutshell, it was a mind-numbing foray into the ugliness of losing hundreds of thousands of images, time and money.

They, like many other photographers knew they needed to find another solution for distributing and marketing their work but after the big burn with DRR, they were understandably hesitant to upload thousands of images to yet another company.

So in October of 2008, we opened the discussion again about a website and the need to secure a place to share, sell and distribute their work. Plus, they were badly in need of a redesign (images of their previous site below).


The previous versions of their websites used Flash and all the links were going out to Digital Railroad which were no longer active. I also felt their previous site was too simple and that continuing to use Flash was perhaps not the best solution.

Update 5.15.2009: It has come to my attention that my comment about Randy and Melissa's previous version of their site as being "simple" may have been misinterpreted as saying, "not good" or "bad design". The thought never crossed my mind and in no way did I mean for this to be anything disparaging or derogatory.

So let me explain: Redesigns happen for many reasons and one primary motivation to do so is because situations, goals and needs change. This is exactly what prompted Randy and Melissa to re-visit their website — their needs changed.

And since the design of their previous site, technology has changed and research has been revealed about the benefits of standards-based web design, blogging, etc. Heck PhotoShelter, wordpress, jquery, etc. didn't even exist when their previous site was designed!

This redesign was about embracing technology that would benefit them more in the long run and give them a presentation that utilized as much of advances in web design (as a whole) as possible.

This was never about diminishing the work of another designer because at that time, the designer worked with the tools available and what he/she felt was the right approach for Randy and Melissa's needs/goals at that time. And, it worked well and looked great: Clean, modern, easy to navigate and showcased their work very well.

Just because I trade in my car doesn't mean I didn't love my car. Or just because I get a new computer doesn't mean I didn't find my previous computer helpful. I needed to get another computer because it offers more power and features for what I need to accomplish today.

And the purpose for showing a before and after is just that. People like to compare and see the difference. Just like home makeovers.

So my sincerest apologies if I offended anyone. I love simple, minimalist design.

So, we had big discussions about Flash and why it would work for some things and not most. We had big discussions about goals and organization of content. Who was this site for? Why does it exist? Why have one? What did they want their visitors to accomplish? Who was their target audience? (Most of this discussion done via email in mad spurts between their travels.) Determining many of those key questions were important before deciding on the technology.

With Flash websites being the norm for most photographers, the decision to not use it was a bit of a stretch initially (for them) since doing something different is sometimes hard to see, especially when all the cool tricked-out websites use Flash...

What I used to build this site

css/html: I love it. It is incredibly flexible and powerful.

jQuery and jQuery Plugins

Cycle: Used for the sequence of fading images on the home page. The cycle plugin is a staple in my toolbox.

Lightbox: This lightbox by Leandro Vieira Pinho is my favorite lightbox. It’s easy to implement and easy to customize.

Expander: Expander was created by Karl Swedberg and Karl seems to be a super nice person. He has a great tutorial blog (Learning jquery) where he and a couple of other good people teach people like me jquery.

Truncate: Created by Brian Reindel, Truncate is different from Expander in that it preserves html! I was so glad to have paragraph breaks.

PhotoShelter: It took awhile to commit to PhotoShelter. This has got to be one of the more powerful and easily customizable ecommerce/marketing solutions out there for professional photographers. I’m not an expert on the topic (my due diligence included SmugMug, ZenFolio and Lightbox Photo) and this is one that I felt has great functionality and features specifically geared toward making a photographer’s website do more.

But a couple of things made tweaking PhotoShelter complicated:

1) The use of tables for layout. Being a float girl, it took me some time to wrap my head around which parts were in tables and why there were tables within tables...

2) Inline styles. I couldn’t adjust them and that frustrated me... But, thanks to Firebug and Safari’s Inspection Palette, I hunted for what I could tweak and made it so.

Designing and coding Randy and Melissa's site was a great challenge and exceptional learning experience. I know their archives and stories almost as well as they do 🙂

They seem really happy with the results. I hope so.

Published by: dpdavis in Design, News, Photography


John Hooley
May 6, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Hey Deb,

Congratulations on a fantastic job! As another web person, I appreciate you sharing your tools and your comments on them. I understand your frusteration with inline styles and tables. They make it much harder to leverage the power of css.

I really liked how your design brought the photos out while still being visible and easy to use. Nice background too! Subtle, but very cool. 🙂


May 6, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Thanks John for your kind words. Really appreciate it. And I mentioned the tools because that’s something I always want to know, too. Best, D.

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