For many companies, the website is one of the first points of contact with the public. Having a site that is easy to understand and navigate is vitally important, but these are features that, oddly enough, many companies fail to take into account. A website needs to explain itself immediately.
Failing to provide such an experience to the user is tantamount to pointing to the door and telling the customer, “Don’t let it hit you on the way out.”
1. Focus on the needs of the audience
One of the deepest pitfalls of website design is creating a site the designer or company likes. It’s not about what they want, it’s about what the customer wants. Your Wonder Widget may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if Gizmo X is what you know customers are coming for, that’s what you have to build towards.
You can refine your market position by modifying the message over time, but give the (hopefully) paying customer what they are looking for. Business websites are no platform for ego. They are marketing tools to be used to reach and convert site visitors.
2. User-friendly look and layout
Successful mailers are rarely difficult to open and confusing to the recipient. Successful billboards present their message so it is easy to grasp, instantly. Websites should follow the same principles. Good design isn’t purely about graphic impact. It involves how efficiently and effectively information is conveyed to the viewer.
You might say that’s the science of design. The art is how attractively and harmoniously it’s all presented. Both are fundamentally important. Keep the end user in the center of design direction and the interface has a good chance of being truly user-friendly.
3. Make information accessible
The information you provide is the heart of the site, its raison d’etre. A logical, self-describing navigation scheme is a huge step in the right direction for making your information accessible. Page titles, article titles, captions, call-outs — they all can help the user find what they’re looking for.
Beside the user, though, these things help search engines find and index your content. If design is the crown and robes of state, content is the king himself. Treat it as such.
4. Registration with a soul
As a marketing tool, your website has some basic functions. One of the most business-focused is gathering demographic information of your viewers. The entire process begins with the lowly form. This should be kept as short and simple as possible. If you truly need to gather a lot of user information, spread it out over a few pages or panels.
Hitting the user with a massive form can sound the death knell of your demographic hopes and dreams. An alternative to forms is simple surveys. This may make assessing your collected information more complicated, but it also has less of the “I don’t want to do this” factor that large forms have.
5. Optimize everything and test!
Your site can have the very best graphic design and information layout, but if it won’t run in a browser, or if the viewer won’t wait for it to load, all that skillful crafting is wasted. Optimization for loading speed, and ensuring the site loads in multiple browsers, on multiple devices, is critical.
If a 3k .gif works just as well as a 25k .jpg, use the smaller file. Test design elements in different formats. Build the interface with the smallest files that still preserve the quality you demand.
Web-based fonts have been a great boon to site design, but use them sparingly. Linking multiple fonts to your page can have a significant impact on load times. Is it vital that all those images load at once, or can you use lazy loading? Do you really need an image there, or can you do the same thing with css? There are many ways to increase load time, or the perception of loading, which sometimes can be just as valuable.
Got a fast loading site? Does it work in Safari? Does it display well on a phone? How does it look in Dolphin on an Android tablet? Test, test, test. Test on different devices, different operating systems, different browsers. Ensure it doesn’t break. Provide the most solid user experience that you can.
A well designed site is a multi-faceted piece of art. Make it fast, solid, sensible and usable. Test everywhere. Careful planning and detailed execution, keeping the user in mind at every step, will result in a website that does its job and then some.