Website Design: Your business success may be more dependent on your web designer than you think…
Are you making the most of your online opportunities?
The design of your website is usually critical to it’s success and appeal. Good design can give the site a professional look, a better user experience and rewarding feeling for your visitors, ease of use and access, confidence in the business and can strengthen your brand.
On the flip side, bad design can portray a bad impression to potential customers or contacts, frustrate or turn away visitors through awkward navigation and weaken the strengths of your brand to the outside world… worryingly this can all happen in the blink of an eye!
Getting all of these elements right is an essential part of having your own website, or you may run the risk of it doing more damage than good for your business.
Good navigation the backbone to a website
Design is of course a subjective thing, but good navigation can not be denied… and good navigation is the backbone to any website. This can get more complicated as the site tries to deliver more content so it’s essential to know what you want the site to do and not overcomplicate the structure if it’s unnecessary to do so.
Keeping it simple will ensure visitors don’t get lost, and your message is more likely to be transmitted efficiently. If users have less choices, then you can guide them to the relevant content faster and with more control.
Think about the type of site you want
What type of site are you creating?
The first thing to understand and decide is what sort of website you are aiming for.
A selection of the key groups of website types:-
- Product Information / Online brochure Service Information
- E-commerce / Online sales
- Customer Support / Sales support
- Brand Awareness
- Social Networking / Online Communities or club websites
What are YOUR needs and what are your VISITORS expectations?
What do you want your visitors to go away with? Information? A deeper understanding of your business or products? Downloads? A memorable experience? Do you want new “cold” visitors to find your site and push them to a ‘call to action’, or is the site in support of your offline marketing activities… or a combination of any or all of these?
What do you want from your website
The assumption is that a website will bring in lots of new business but there are many other reasons for having a website, some of which may be a less obvious or less direct way of marketing such as reinforcing a message for existing clients, leads or customers. It’s important to understand what you are expecting from the site as this will generally guide the principles of the design and navigation system.
Navigation is the key
So, what are the options for navigation? The web is maturing and through this evolutionary process certain standards of conformity have emerged. Simply put, users expect a system of ‘top level’ navigation followed by ‘sub navigation’ links within each ‘category’. This ‘tree’ may well be several levels deep in bigger sites, but organising the structure of these is critical in keeping the site focussed and easy to use for visitors.
Importantly, this isn’t the ONLY way. Maybe you want to break with conformity!? A unique approach to navigation can, if handled well, make your site stand out from the crowd and make the user experience more special and memorable. Of course this approach isn’t suitable to every site type but it can make for a more modern and adventurous feel.
Look & Feel
It’s important that the design fits with the rest of your marketing collateral and brand image, but there are many ways to approach this very subjective area. Here are some keywords to consider when specifying the look & feel of your site: Clean, Modern, Professional, Friendly, Classical, Adventurous, Simple, Basic, Fun, Busy, Lively, Informative, Fresh, Different, Corporate, Functional, Stylish, Urban, Humorous, Colourful, Rural.
Narrowing your thoughts down to 3 or 4 of these words will give you focus in the overall design of the site.
A little bit Flash?
Flash is a browser Plugin allowing much richer and more dynamic content to be delivered, including animation, audio, video and intricate mouse interactivity to create some amazing user experiences and attractive, unique websites. Is this right for you though?
Ideal for younger audiences
Going back to the earlier key point, it depends what you are after and what you want your visitors to experience. Flash is very good at certain things but has some major drawbacks to consider. If developed well, Flash is very good for keeping visitor attention so ideal for sites aimed at younger audiences. Also it is ideal if you want to synchronise sound with a slideshow style approach to revealing information.
However, it’s main drawbacks are the development time in the initial build; the potential difficulty and extra time required to update content in the future; the fact that a lot of corporate office networks will block Flash content and the lack of full DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) compliance within Flash based websites, basically forcing you to have alternate versions of the content if you need to follow DDA standards.
The World of the Web is unfortunately full of technical compromises. The black art is to embrace and work with the limitations, and in most cases making them work for you in the best way rather than wasting energy on fighting them.
In essence, the compromises to consider fall into these 3 categories:-
Screen resolutions: Screen resolutions are an important consideration when creating a new website. In an ideal world, everyone would see your site exactly as you want them to but that is not and never will be the case.
Screen resolutions have a massive effect on how much ‘view’ fits on a single screen without scrolling. Sideways scrolling is a big “no-no”, so what screen resolution will you target? Recent reports (http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_display.asp ) show the trend is slowly shifting to higher standard resolutions, but a large enough proportion (20%) are still on 1024 x 768 screens, which is not a wide-screen format.
Have a background images to your website
Within the next few years this figure may have dropped to a negligible amount so it may become safe to start designing sites for wide-screen formats. There are some neat ways around the resolution problem such as having a background image which “fills” any extra space thus making the site always look complete, rather than lost in the middle of empty space.
Also some more advanced techniques such as detecting the screen resolution and configuring the site to have extra content/columns if a higher resolution is detected, although this of course will take more development and testing time to achieve.
There are still factors out of your control because users with a higher resolution may not have their browser open full screen, so really there is no certain way to know what size window you have available.
Accessibility / DDA: Full DDA compliance is a difficult thing (read time and cost intensive) to achieve. You need to consider your likely audience and build according to their likely requirements.
There are some overriding legal requirements to adhere to, all based on not discriminating those with sight, hearing or mobility difficulties. Therefore, all text needs to be able to be read by a screen reader (for people that cannot see the text on screen) or have options to increase the font sizes.
All audio also needs a written transcript of the same content (for those that cannot hear), and all navigation needs to be able to be done with keyboard controls (for those that cannot control a mouse).
This can be a big challenge in creating more modern and dynamic sites (particularly any advanced use of Flash), often leading to a ‘text only’ version of the content, which then impacts any future updates needing to be done to both sites.
Think about browser compatibility
Browser compatibility: Thorough testing is usually required on each of the major browsers and versions of each to ensure display consistency between all browsers. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Chrome… all of these may well display things slightly differently, which in some cases can drastically change the way the site looks or in some cases stop some more advanced features from working all together.
For further advice on designing your website, or for a free quotation for your requirements, please contact Mark Hockings at DesignerMark.biz (email@example.com)
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