Good Website Design
At Just Imagine, we believe that a website design's purpose is to make the content as accessible as possible for the visitor.
Our 5 Cardinal Rules of Good Webite Design
- Make the content stand out.
- Make the homepage fast loading.
- Make the design visitor and search engine-friendly.
- Make the central message front and center.
- Make it accessible to the widest possible viewership.
Since, in our opinion, design follows content then it's logical for us to say that content dictates design. In other words, design's job is to assist content in engaging the visitor and encouraging longer and more frequent visits.
What We Mean by Good Design
Content is King
Have you ever been to a website that forces you to jump through hoops to get at the information you're after? Website designers sometimes create barriers in the name of "design." An example might be a site done in Flash that forces you to use small scrolling bars to access important information contained in a very small window on the page. There's no way to expand the window so you're forced to read one or two lines at a time. NOT good.
On the contrary, good website design is one that doesn't interfere and doesn't distract. A good web design is one that the visitor doesn't notice. Think about your own experiences. When you bookmark a site for later use is it because you liked the design?
Keep it Fast
The more things change the more they stay the same. Whoever wrote that most certainly didn't have the Internet in mind, yet the saying applies even here. The need for speed is the same today as it was 10 years ago. The difference is that today we design for broadband, not dial up. So while a homepage should still load quickly, what's acceptable today would have been a disaster yesterday. Just remember, you've still got only 15-20 seconds for the visitor to decide if this is where he wants to be.
Make it Friendly
Make sure you have plenty of text on the home page, with headlines and subheads using the appropriate HTML tags. You can break the text into lists and shorter blurbs to make your point easier to discern to your human visitors. But don't sacrifice text for what you think is that "real clean" magazine cover approach. Search engine spiders will go hungry and your visitors will get frustrated.
Do NOT use frames. We could leave it at that, but someone would say but even frames can be made search engine-friendly. Frames are not friendly to a search engine spider or to a human visitor.
Avoid any significant use of Flash, either at the site or the page level. Do not use Flash for navigation menus (search engine spiders cannot index Flash effectively). Do not have a Flash intro, unless, of course, you're selling Flash design services. Flash combines text and graphics to create single images. Search engines don't see images.
If you want to incorporate some sort of eye candy or use Flash to help your sales conversion efforts, read our article "The Upside of Flash Content."
Subtlety may work on Madison Avenue, but web users don't have the time to figure out what that clever headline means. Even worse is a navigation system that forces the visitor to stop and think. A good website design should lay out the facts about your business, simply and logically. Navigation menus should be at the top of the page or on the left.
Think of your home page as a table of contents, not a fancy brochure or magazine cover. Promote the content you most want the visitor to see. Give the visitor a brief synopsis of the content a link will take him to. Don't open new browser windows when an internal link is clicked. In short, reduce or eliminate surprises.
Make it Accessible
Designing for a least common denominator is critical, what you set as that denominator, however, is a moving target. For instance, if your design calls for a "fixed width" what should that width be? This depends on the resolution setting of the visitor's monitor. We design for 1280 x 800, but this will change as fewer and fewer people use that setting on today's larger and larger monitors.
We don't care for websites designed with Microsoft FrontPage. Why? Sites tend to look OK in Internet Explorer, but lousy in other browsers. Other designer tools can create some very strange code that scramble the browser's ability to display the page properly, or at least as intended. For best results, straight, compliant, manual HTML coding works best.
The big thing to remember when choosing someone to design or remodel your website, is that there is far more to developing a successful website than making it look pretty. Finally, approach your decision with the certain knowledge that no one will care more about how your website looks than you do.