I hope that you’ve had a great week! It’s been blazing hot where I live but no worries- after getting more than enough tan (and let’s face it, a little burn) by spending just a couple of hours in the sun, I had tons of time to get back to my research, design projects and networking. I kind of think of it as my ‘play-time.’ It can’t be work, it’s too much fun!
In this post I’d like to go through a list of must-haves for your web design that will make your pages a pleasant, informative, easy and user-friendly experience for your visitors. Things I’ll go over are:
- What are User-Friendly and Usability anyway?
- It’s Common Sense; Design to Your Visitors’ Habits and Preferences
- Maximize Prime Real-Estate
- Cut the Junk
- Always Ask the Ultimate Question
Let’s Be Empowered Together…
I want to share this with you because, I am always learning-always and I think that much of what I learn is useful information that all website, and business, owners need to know. When we are all empowered by this knowledge, we work more efficiently together and websites, identity designs and marketing campaigns experience long, long-term success. Now who doesn’t want that?
I talk a lot about all of the work that is undertaken in order to build a beautiful and useful website (and by the way: I employ many of these same practices in my graphic design work as well). It’s a “Backstage Pass” so that you can get an idea of how complex, and important to your business, design is. The bottom line of this process is, by employing the steps and techniques that I write about and have made a part of my design business, websites, identity designs and collateral designs are more successful. Measurably.
So what is Usability anyway?
Usability is a current buzz-word in web design that is a key component to any website yet one that is not always clear. And boy have I spent a lot of time meditating on this word. It’s a simple word that rolls off the tongue and yet it has and continues to consume a huge chunk of my web design time. And for good reason.
Put simply, usability is the ease with which a site visitor accomplishes a task.
You might have heard of the terms user-friendly or an optimal user experience before. That is what I am talking about. In graphic design we often refer to it as focusing on clearly communicating in a visual manner. Cut out the unnecessary junk and be straightforward. All elements of a design need to have a job in creating a message that clearly communicates. Like a billboard- say it quickly and clearly.
Usability can mean the difference between frustrated visitors who never come back and high sales. Further, as a web designer, my job is to research, build, test and test again until the website is optimally usable. By making my clients’ websites usable, visitors will not only come back to a website over and over, they will consistently have rewarding experiences. This builds trust between the visitor and the brand which in turn builds a brand’s credibility. Basically, everyone wins which is what, in my humble opinion, all businesses should strive for. On the other hand, imagine the consequences if your website is NOT user friendly. Bad first impression- bad perception of experience-bad perception of company.
Let’s talk about how to make this friendly-ness a reality. It involves a lot of common sense as well as continual efforts to stay current on what is happening in the industry as well as with consumer behavior.
It’s Common Sense; Design to Your Visitors’ Habits and Preferences
By employing some common sense in the design of the site (which filters into all elements of the marketing plan) and staying on top of consumer behaviors and preferences, such as web surfing habits, we can build designs that will speak to visitors’ tendencies- this is called having an intuitive design which in turn makes the site usable. Think like your target user. What would they want? Do? Hate? Trends exist in web surfing, clicking, loyalty, etc. that inform designers’ work and make it the best it can be; for example, research suggests that placing the company logo (or a site ID-visual identification of a website) in the top left corner and linking it the homepage is key in branding as well as navigation. Visitors expect to be able to click on the logo from anywhere and get back to the homepage. It also re-assures them that they are still on the same site. It’s like the North Star of a website.
Statistics like that are consistently published- I have my favorite sources bookmarked and on speed-dial so that I don’t miss a thing. This research can even be broken down by industry (i.e. where is the main navigation menu typically placed on restaurant sites? Is there secondary navigation? If so, where is it found? Left or right sidebar maybe?) so that your efforts can be that much more focused. Basically, place design elements where site visitor’s would expect to find them and be sure that these items are clearly identified and are optimized (web optimized for quick loading. No one likes a page that takes forever to load!).
Another quick example: Usability research says that users tend to hover their mouse on the right side of the screen. Therefore, this is another great place for navigation or even click-through banner ads.
My job as the designer is to sort through all of the studies and research and determine what needs to be considered for each particular project. And THAT ties right back to getting to know my clients and their goals. See? It all ties together. Neat, huh?
Another factoid that is more general (sorry, can’t resist mentioning one more!): Visitors don’t typically spent a lot of time on a web page, carefully reading every word and appreciating all of the design and content writing decisions that were made. Visitors are goal-oriented, usually don’t have a lot of time and are more likely to follow the first logical choice than to read through to the bottom of the page, evaluate all alternatives and then choose the best option. This is why designers need to build sites that are organized, relevant and obvious. Think of it like designing a big billboard that a visitor is speeding by.
Think about it…
When you are clicking through a website and everything is right where you thought it would be based on the visual and textual cues on the pages don’t you feel smarter and more in control of things? That’s a very good thing and building a site that creates this kind of friendly experience for visitors will keep them coming back. Again, this builds trust with the brand that owns the site.
Maximize Prime Real Estate
You may have heard the phrase: ‘Above the fold.’ This is the area of the webpage that initially displays on a computer monitor’s screen. Another best practice is to keep key elements on this part of the webpage. So how do we maximize this prime piece of real-estate? Here are a few options:
- Visuals (logos/site IDs, brand graphics)
- A tag line
- Great copy
- Clear and relevant navigation (I obsess over navigation when I am drawing up site maps. It’s such a key element in a web design and needs to be established very early through research and client consultation)
These are just a few and I determine the right mix by knowing my client and what their goals are.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I completely disregard what I put below the fold. This is a critical area too. Getting back to my extreme focus on navigation, a best practice that I have found is to include text links of the main navigation in the footer of the webpage.
A word on banner ads…
This is one of the first online advertising methods and has had such an interesting evolution. An organization exists, the Interactive Advertising Bureau that provides guidelines on sizes. This is another area that I keep up with consistently as many of my clients rely on these little advertising pieces. One cautionary note to keep in mind though is ‘Banner Blindness.’ Consumers are developing immunity to these forms of advertising, making it that much more important to be targeted, deliberate and on the cutting edge of design in your marketing.
Cut the Junk
And then cut some more. Corporate lingo, inside jokes, design and content decisions based on internal company politics, obscurity and unnecessary elements and decoration are best avoided. If it doesn’t contribute to the site’s goal, get rid of it. You can always build out more detailed and descriptive pages through lower levels of the website. This way, a visitor can choose to click to these pages and read more.
The Ultimate Question
A question that I ask myself about my designs over and over is:
“If someone came across this site who had no knowledge of this business/topic/subject, would they know right away what this site is about?”
It’s as simple as that. It’s what I am working towards with all that I do. It centers my work and keeps me focused.
Research like this is what I am constantly doing so that my designs meet current consumer habits and preferences. I live by it- it’s like setting myself (and my clients) up for success.
So there you are. Five Best Practices in Web Design. There are so many that I can talk about but I think I’ve said plenty in this post! Thanks, everyone!
- Usability vs SEO: Getting The Right Balance | Loop11 (loop11.com)
- 4 Common Web Design Pitfalls & How to Remedy Them (grasshopper.com)