The Dark Arts of Web Design

Your website potentially enables prospective customers to find out more about what you do from any part of the world at any time of the day.
It can behave as your shop front, an information source, or as a never sleeping sales person.
But only if you do it right.
Here are a few tips for making an effective website.

Content is king

It is the classic statement about web design, mainly because it is true. With the possible exception of web designers, people come to your site to view the content. A website that does not make content easily accessible will be frustrating for users and they will go elsewhere if they cannot do what they want on your site.

Be aware of the needs of both you and the user

While the user may come to your site for one reason, often you may want them to look at additional pieces of information. Perhaps you want them to be aware of complimentary services to those that the user originally came for or perhaps you want to provide the user with additional information that they may not have originally come to see.

It can sometimes be a balancing act in terms of prioritising how this information is displayed. A good website will be able to strike this balance by mixing the two pieces of information together so that the user gets what they want at the same time as what you want to show them with minimal fuss.

Keep it simple

Don’t confuse your users with too many options, but instead guide them through your site by condensing information into appropriate headings. The less you have on the site, the easier it will be for users to find what they need, the easier it will be for you to give them the information that you want to and the less confusing the site will be to use.

Make sure not to repeat yourself as this will frustrate users and don’t waffle away in large screeds of text. Give your users information in easy to consume, bite size chunks which are separated appropriately.

Websites that look good are perceived as easier to use than those that don’t

While content is king, the queen of design still has a lot of power so keeping a website simple but ugly will not generate the same results as a stylishly produced website that provides the same content via the same steps.

This is not carte blanche to bring out garish colours and cheesy imagery but instead to pay attention to your target market’s tastes, while also paying attention to how the site will actually be used.

Keep your more important content ‘above the fold’

Users are inherently lazy. When people may be visiting your site following a web search that has produced 1,500,000 results, they need a reason to scroll down to find out more about what you do. Bear in mind that on many web browsers, users will only be seeing the first 800 pixels of content from your site on their screens. The bottom of this area is called ‘the fold’. Keep the most important information designed to make the user read on above the fold.

No one likes music that automatically plays on a site

Unless you are a music site or they have a very very good reason for it, you should sack your web designer instantly if they decide that your users would like some ambient or cheesy music playing as they browse your site. They just won’t. Chances are they will already be listening to music on their computer and will not be inclined to switch it off to listen to something that may not be to their taste on your site.

People are drawn to big headlines before anything else

9 times out of 10, a large headline on a site is the first thing that users will look at when visiting your site, and what it says will be the thing that determines whether or not they continue to read what’s on the rest of the site.

Similarly, people only scan the first couple of words in each paragraph, so make sure that the important content that you want to keep people reading appears early on in each paragraph. Also keep paragraphs short. Remember that text on a screen is generally less easy on the eye than text in print and you need to keep users’ attention.

Web design useability is a science

Web design useability is less about value judgements than you may think. Many studies have been carried out which have involved attaching headgear to users which actually track their eye movement across a web page. These studies have produced a wealth of information and recommendations about the useability of a website and these are just a few of them. Make sure that your designer is aware of these and has the ability to put them into practice effectively.

We’d love to design your website for you. Get in touch if you want to have a chat about it.
For more tips on promoting yourself more effectively, check out our Media Masterclass articles.