This article is not about web design as in the look, feel and brand of the site. It is, rather, about the underlying rules that you should consider when designing, or commissioning your website. It is, largely, about how your users experience your site – how they are enabled to navigate, search and respond to your content.
This, in turn, relies on you having a clear vision about what you are trying to achieve with your website – how it relates to your overall marketing strategy. You need to ask yourself what the value proposition of your product / service is and how this is best communicated. Have you defined your target audience (demographics, personality) and how best to interact with them?
Then you need to consider what call to action you are looking for from each piece of information on your site – how do you want your audience to respond – what should they do next? What is changing in your business or market – what do you want to communicate about those changes and why?
Once you are clear on these things you can start on defining your design brief – the document you will use either internally or with a design agency as guidance for your website development. Note that this should also be done if you are redesigning your website. Too many redesigns are minor evolutions of what went before and carry with them all the original mistakes.
Below are some of the underlying rules that you should consider when putting together your design brief:
- Make the navigation simple and the design as uncluttered as possible. Research shows that users favour sites with less choices and content on each page.
- Write for the web. Make your content easy to and quick to read – people do not read web content in the same way that they read printed material. They scan for, and click on, the most relevant link. Break the content down into small, easily read paragraphs. Use subheadings. Use bullet points.
- Write for users. Don’t overload your text with keywords for search engines. New search engine algorithms favour sites that are written for people – not search engine robots.
- Write for your audience – make sure the content, style and tone are suited to the people you want to engage with.
- Tell stories – they captivate your audience rather than boring them. They entertain rather than overtly selling. They are outward, rather than inward, looking and provide a compelling narrative rather than dull words.
- Use a mix of content types to meet different user preferences. For example, consider using video or infographics.
- Talk about your company, your people and your values. People are not just interested in lists of product specifications – they want to know about the brand they are buying into (e.g. is it environmentally friendly).
- Make sure that your content strategy is part of your design and that old content is archived in an intuitive way so that it is both available for interested customers but also continues to drive search engine traffic.
- Create clean, uncluttered, balanced pages, each with one clear call to action. You should think of each page as an independent landing page – not everybody will find your home page first.
- Use good quality images – sparsely. One clean image per page can be much more effective than multiple pictures or montages. There are plenty of image banks online to use from but don’t be sucked into using the same ‘corporate’ images that all your competitors use.
- Keep your content visible. The term ‘above the fold’ relates to how newspapers were displayed on newspaper stands but is now used to refer to the content that appears on the screen without the need to scroll.
- Use analytics to check how users are finding, navigating and leaving your content. How well are your calls to action working?
- Continually test your designs. An example is using A/B testing where half you your users are served up one version of a page whilst the other half get a second version. Compare which works best for you.
- Design for mobile. An ever increasing percentage of traffic is mobile so ensure you use responsive design.
- Don’t put off users by asking them to register at the outset and don’t ask for too much information in your registration form. Make sure your site recognises registered users!
- Use simple, effective ecommerce forms. Think about what has stopped you proceeding to check-out on a website and make sure you avoid the same pitfalls.
- Integrate with social media - use social logins, enable comments and social sharing (but have a strategy for responding to this).
- Go to a web design agency without having prepared a proper brief. Taking time to map out what you want to achieve, and providing as much information about your audience as possible, will save time and costs, and improve your relationship with the developer.
- Allow yourself to be drawn into complex designs early on. Test simple design principles methodically and build on them with knowledge. It is too easy to get drawn into ‘feature creep’ which can both add to cost and detract from the user experience and your marketing goals.
- Allow your efforts to be slowed or diverted by committees, senior managers or technologists without them understanding the design principles, the design process and the marketing objectives.
- Allow egos or dogma get in the way of the right decisions.
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