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The Creative Design aspect of website design is often thought of as making “pretty pictures”. Yet, there is so much about the design process that isn’t about making a website pretty. I’ve never had a client tell me they want an ugly site, so yes, it should be pretty. But it’s not that simple. There’s a lot to be considered when designing a website.
Besides being nice, clean, and “pretty”, a website needs to be functional. You might think that being functional means that a website isn’t “broken”, in other words there is some aspect of the site that does not do what it’s supposed to do. But that type of functional is not what I am talking about. Of course, it’s a bad thing if a website is broken, but what does it mean to truly be functional?
For me as a designer, it means that all aspects of the website should work, and they should work well. The colors of the site should play well together and not be overwhelming or jarring. The graphics should be eye-catching, but not distracting. The page layout should flow in a manner that allows the user to quickly find what they are seeking. Navigation should be intuitive, easy to use, and not require the user to play a guessing game. The process of finding information or products on a site should not be akin to going through a maze, where the user finds themselves doubling back to return to the beginning in order to choose another path.
But that’s not all. I believe that in order for a website to truly be functional, it has to enable the client to accomplish their goals, by way of enabling the user to accomplish theirs. So when we begin a new project, the most important questions we ask a client are:
Who is the intended audience for your website?
What is the purpose or goal of your website, in other words, what do you want the user to accomplish while visiting your website?
Once we know the intended audience and their goals, it allows us to customize the design to fit those needs. But we can go further than just knowing the intended audience and their goals.
If the client utilizes our Web Marketing services, I can go visit my friend Jeff Pickle, one of our Web Marketing experts. Jeff can gather up all sorts of cool information using Google Analytics. He can provide me with various reports containing actual user data from the client’s current website. I can use this data to see things such as what operating system the majority of their users have, what browsers they’re using, and their screen resolution, just to name a few.
I can take this information and use it to make some critical decisions during the design process. For example, I can decide how much screen real estate I have to work with based on user data. For a long time, we’ve been locked into a space of 1024 x 768 pixels, because this was the screen resolution size of the majority. But the current data trend from various client websites shows that a large portion of users are now using screens with a resolution higher than 1024 x 768. Since screen resolution is moving up, that means the “fold” –the place where the page content is cut off at the bottom of the screen so the user has to scroll to see the rest– is moving down. I’ve been keeping my eye on this trend, because it seems to be picking up speed and changing quickly.
This fact is an important bit of information because so many clients are afraid that if their pages are too long, the user will not see all the content and so they want me to try to get everything above the fold, which isn’t usually possible unless 1) your site has very little content, or 2) the content you have is all crammed together so that it looks confusing or cluttered. The best way to deal with the fold is to make sure one thing is clearly visible to the user:
Look! There’s more content down there!
This is accomplished by signaling to the user that there’s more content below. It’s like when reading the front page of a newspaper. You can see when a picture or an article is cut off and so you know you have to look below the fold or flip the paper over to see the rest of the article or picture. The equivalent to this on the web is scrolling. The problem is that on the web, the fold isn’t fixed for all users like it is on a newspaper, so in order to be able to pull off this signaling trick, it helps to know approximately where the fold sits for the majority of a website’s users.
As an interesting side-note, did you know that we computer users don’t read the bottom of the screen? We glance at the bottom and if we see something down there, we scroll –as if instinctively– in order to bring it more towards the middle of the screen. Pay more attention to your scrolling behavior, and I bet you’ll notice that you do it too!
Wait… but what about the pretty pictures?
As it turns out, pictures and graphics matter more than most folks might think. Beacon’s Web Marketing tools allow us to see what types of information on a site is popular and what types of information is not. For instance Nicole Tolbert, another of Beacon’s Web Marketing experts, discovered on one of our Web Marketing client’s website, that an overwhelming number of users clicked on a graphic containing a photograph coupled with copy, but the graphic didn’t take them anywhere because it wasn’t a link to more information. Obviously, the users were thinking if they clicked the image, it would link them to a page with more information, but that wasn’t the case. So in the process of creating a new design, we were able to take into account that their audience is drawn to graphics containing photographic imagery with text, so to capture their audience, we needed images with text that linked the user to more information.
So sometimes good web design IS about the pretty pictures!