A site worth seeing

As president and creative director of Trendesign, Michael Houseman has to stay up on the latest in Web design. The Akron advertising agency likes to call itself “the House behind the Mouse” — the firm responsible for developing and maintaining the Web site for Dallas-based Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant chain.

As any 21st century parent can attest, a computer-savvy kid with a short attention span can be a tough customer when it comes to entertainment. But a recent Lycos survey ranked Chuck E. Cheese’s Web site (www.chuckecheese.com) as the fifth most popular online destination for children. The site had more than 5 million hits representing 150,000 user sessions in December 2001.

But the trends and innovations that have made the site a hit aren’t just for kids, as Houseman revealed when we asked him to list what’s new in Web design.

* Application-building. The days of a Web site that is nothing more than text and graphics — “basically, a printed brochure online” — have come and gone. Now companies want their sites to do something.

“We’re moving into areas where most companies are looking for some sort of return on their Web marketing dollar,” Houseman says. “They’re looking to sell, buy, handle distributors‚ orders, some sort of function that can be attributable to an operational savings for the company.”

While the Internet has yet to render the business-to-business sales catalog obsolete, he notes that more and more businesses are making the transition from print to electronic media — a switch that, in turn, reduces printing and mailing costs.

* E-marketing. Houseman calls e-marketing, or marketing via e-mail, “the big buzz right now” in business-to-consumer applications.

“For the right client, it can be extremely effective,” he says.

Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants, for example, send a coupon, usually for a special offer on a family-sized pizza and game tokens, to hundreds of thousands of e-mail addresses every month. Houseman calls the promotion’s effect on sales “enormous,” one that can be measured by the redemption of coupons. The e-mailing list is compiled through the Web site, where visitors can sign up to receive coupons.

“We’re not going out and buying that $19.95 CD full of e-mail addresses,” he says. “That’s just an untargeted list. You’re mailing to seniors for a Chuck E. Cheese coupon. That’s not really effective.”

* Animation. The same software that brings cartoon-like characters to life on Chuck E. Cheese’s Web site can be used to animate graphics such as pie charts, graphs and diagrams, supply audio to accompany still photographs and create pseudo-video presentations.

Houseman says clients such as attorneys and certified public accountants “can explain different breaking issues in accounting practices or opportunities in mergers and acquisitions, things they would normally do in a PowerPoint presentation that can’t be ported to Web media.”

The visual presentation can change as the data changes.

“The back-end database actually changes the look, maybe what is represented, in the graphic,” he says. “There are a lot more tools to dynamically change a Web site that don’t require the traditional graphics editing that we once had.”

An easy out

How can you keep your mass e-mailings from being cursed as an unwanted nuisance?

Michael Houseman, president and creative director of Trendesign, says Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants has been able to maintain a list of recipients who want to receive their coupons by making it easy for those who don’t want them to opt out of the e-mail program.

Just a point and click of the mouse on the indicated spot of the e-mail message removes the recipient’s e-mail address from the database.