They say ignorance is bliss. They also say that a little knowledge is dangerous. So how much do you want to know? We tackle the issue of design, and what it really means to your website…
It is important to discuss how to plan for website success, and the importance of seeking advice before embarking on a web project. It’s a tricky business, whether you’re already online or just thinking about it, and as web designers we like to help people understand what is really going on. You see, contrary to popular belief, knowledge itself ain’t power; but understanding it, is.
Let us start with the cornerstone of website development – Design. When we talk about design we mean more than just what you can see. Design plays a fundamental role at all levels of business. In fact, it was Thomas Watson Jnr., CEO of IBM in the late 1950’s, who made the now famous remark that “Good Design is Good Business”.
Design is strategy, innovation, and embracing the idea that things can always be improved. It’s also an ongoing process, which is why the five tips below could help you even if you’ve already got a website:
Get Their Attention.
When a visitor reaches your home page you only have a few seconds to grab their attention. A slow loading page is a death knell for popularity – most people know that now, and web pages are getting faster to load all the time. But what about the arrangement of your content? How will you get each visitor to the relevant information quickly, before web-boredom sets in?
Your home page is key. It needs to act as a virtual ‘cattle-gate’, sorting out customers as they arrive and pointing them in the direction they need to go. If you run a shop, you entice people in by putting nice products in the window.Â Why should a website be different?
KISS – Keep It Simple (Stupid?)
What role does your website fulfil in your business? This is an important question, because it’s going to determine the entire style of the design. Focus on this role and design for it. That old maxim, that less is actually more, is only a fancy way of saying that simple ideas work best, because their message is undiluted by clutter, gimmicks and over-design. If you’re confused by your website, then chances are, so are your customers.
This idea is also important in the navigation of a site. Getting around the site shouldn’t be difficult, it should be a breeze, and easy to understand. A good design will have clear visual indicators of where you are in a website at any particular time. Don’t let your customers get lost – keep them right where you intend them to be.
Setting The Right Tone
Your design is the ‘personality’ of your site. What message do you want to send the public about your business? The layout, the colour, the use of images all create a tone that communicates your business values without words. It needs to be sensitive to the people you expect to use the site.
Why would you close your shop to twenty percent of people just because they were two years out of date? Likewise, Why would you use non-compliant web-design?
Accessibility is a hidden part of design, a topic only whispered in the corridors of the internet, but increasingly important as the range of computers and people using the web grows. Just what is it you ask? Well, all software that uses the internet (such as your web browser) must conform to an international standard. Unfortunately, most of them break at least a few of the rules, but things are getting better. An international body called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C for short) produces the standards and lobbies software developers to comply with them.
Many designers now realise that this is the future of web design. Why? Well, because you can be sure that a standards compliant web site helps the broadest range of people to see your site, now and in the future.
Keep It Simple
Have we had this one? Well, I just wanted to make sure everybody understood. Websites are complex things, web designers know this, and that’s fine, because we’re paid to know. But a visitor to a site must never be baffled with science, confused with a myriad of animations, or plum shut out because they don’t have the latest whiz-bang technology.
There’s a trendy phrase going around web-designers at the moment, about getting clients to ‘own’ their website. It’s not about clients who don’t pay, more about trying to get people actively involved in the design process. Ultimately it is your website, and you call the shots. Try logging in to your own site and having a
browse around as if you were a customer with no clue about computers or the internet. Make notes about your experience and use them to offer suggestions on improvements.
A mentor once told me that design is about never being satisfied, and always looking for a better solution. That’s a good thing, especially in an environment like the internet, which is ever changing, and ever growing. And in the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re making a race-car or a website, good design is about creating a winner.