Elements of Design
Another questions that I keep getting asked; What makes a good website design? There are several answers to this question. Mostly it depends on your target and your goal. For the sake of this post were going to look at 4 different targets. First, a “landing page”. Second, a sales site. Third, a social site. Forth a “utility” site. Don’t worry if your not sure what all that means I will take the time to explain it.
These are the one hit wonders. One page to get your point across. It doesn’t matter if it’s to sell a product or service or to inform a group of people. This type of site has 1–2 pages and is only meant to be viewed once by each end user.
The main goals of this type of site is to get the point across. Keep it short sweet and to the point. Navigation is not an issue. Spend all the time you want on looks and form. It’s most important to get your point across. Use big letters, flashy images, flare, the works. Your making a billboard for the Internet. Treat it like one. Be tacky, think Las Vegas. Keep your main points big and easy to spot. Near the top of the page. Most people won’t bother to scroll down if you can’t get them hooked before they have to use the mouse. Keep in mind that the back button is easy to find.
These sites have multiple pages. You want to showcase your product or service and offer a way to collect monies. The site needs to be easy to use but also a little flashy. The site it’s self reflects the your product. Keep your feature list small, use moderate amounts of bold text, but don’t make it stand out too much. An example or picture of your product never hurt, if your offering a service, list the price right out front. Qualify your potential customers. They may want your product or service very badly, but if they can’t afford it your just wasting their time and yours. Try to devote one page to pricing if you have a complicated structure, another to features. It never hurts to compare your products or services to a competitor if you think you have a better offer. Keep money collection on a separate page. Make sure that your contact or support info is right out there where people can find it. If they have a question, and can’t find it, you just lost a sale.
Navigation on these pages should standout. You want people to “poke around” and explore your site. Links in the body of the text should be used often. Horizontal navigation is a good way to accomplish this, but don’t give up the good look of your site to do it. The more links the better. Remember you want the user to “find” the other pages, but you need to make sure there easy to find. Think of hiding easter eggs for a toddler. You don’t want to really hide them, they should be able to just stumble across them.
These sites are sites that encourage user created content, networking, or communication. The most important rule with this type of site is to keep it absolutely simple. People are there to share a quick idea, most wont want to have to figure out how to do it.
Keep your links everywhere, a top bar navigation system really works best, but combine it with a side bar as well. Keep the “content area” wide open and big. People want to be creative, let them. The site should be both simple and flashy. Use as few images as possible. You never know what content you users are going to put up. Also make sure that you work some kind of help system into your layout. You will need to provide help on every page (or at least most of them).
These types of sites are used repeatedly by users. Think gmail or my project tracker. You log in every day, navigate around and preform a function. Because of the repeated use its important to follow a few rules that the other site types do not have.
First, navigation needs to be exceptionally easy. Users will learn how to get to the features they use the most, but if it takes them 20 minuets to do it they will find another product. Don’t use many effects or pretty images. It might look nice while making the sale, but could you Imagen a 3 second fade in and fade out on every email you try to read. Or every time you log in having to watch a 10 second visual effect. Keep it simple. Provide user feed back for every action, if actions take more then 2 seconds to complete normally, give them a spinner or progress bar. Something to let them know the site didn’t “freeze”. With this type of site it’s ok to be ugly. Mater of fact your users will thank you for your ugliness as long as the site is fast. Look at all the “green screen” applications out there. When they were replaced with fancy GUI versions, people had a fit, be cause they had to navigate with a mouse. “Tab Tab Tab f” Didn’t work any more. The end result was the GUI app allowed for tabs or they used a terminal emulator to get back to the old application.
Those are the basic concepts behind any site. The real trick is combining them to preform a function. You might have a great web app, but without a sales page it’s not going to get very far.
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