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Website design pointers

Behind the Design

“I don’t get it. It looks pretty normal to me.”

A friend of mine was looking at the award-winning website for a large organisation.

“You would think for the money they spent it would have some more bells and whistles!”

As a web designer I hear this sort of thing a lot. The truth is, a good design is like an iceberg. There is a lot more under the surface.

It all comes down to the difference between an artist and a designer. An artist aims to express themselves through their art. They begin with an idea and end with a representation. A designer on the other hand, responds to a need. They begin with a problem and end with a solution. A designer finds joy in crafting the best possible solution to a complex problem.

So what are the needs that are solved by a good web design? Let’s take a look at ten key factors every good web designer should have on their mind as they start work on a new project.

1. Driven by the Goal

What is the goal? This is the question to ask first, before starting any project. The goal might be a sale, booking, rental, enquiry, call, or simply to be seen, but if there is no goal there is no point building a website. Once the goal(s) have been determined, every single decision is geared towards supporting that goal. From wording, to colours, to placement on the page, everything is designed to help the customer take the next step.

2. User Experience

A good user experience (UX) is when a website “just works”. It responds to your interactions the way you expect it to. User Experience (UX) isn’t a thing you can see like an animation. In fact, when it’s done well, it is entirely invisible. It lets you focus on the content of the site, because you don’t have to think about how you are interacting. You don’t need to be “taught” or need to “figure out” how to use this particular site. Believe it or not, a huge amount of planning, effort and usability testing goes into determining best-practice methods to achieve this goal.

3. Responsive Design

When people started looking at websites on their mobile phones, we started creating mobile-friendly designs. Nowadays, however, your website could be viewed on anything from a smartwatch to an HD TV and every size in between. With such a huge range of screen sizes, a design paradigm emerged called responsive design. It basically means that a website design changes to match the screen size it is being viewed on. If you visit a responsive website in your browser, and change the size of your browser window by dragging it around, you will see that the design morphs and flows to match the size. You might see font sizes changing, images or text being re-aligned or disappearing altogether, and changes to the navigation options. The point of all of this is to give the best possible user experience to everyone, regardless of what device they are using.

4. Findability

Having the most beautiful website in the world is entirely useless if nobody can find it. There are several factors that go into ensuring your website can be found by the world, and Search Engine Optimisation is critical to the success of most organisations. When planning your content structure, designing your navigation, or writing your content, keep in mind how important it is for people to be able to find the right content quickly.

5. Accessibility

There are some great assistive technologies around that allow people with disabilities to browse the web. However, most of them rely on website designers to follow best-practice methods. There are many best-practices that are designed to make websites accessible, from choice of colours, to how you write your content. Keeping accessibility in mind as you build your site will result in a massive difference for those customers who need a little extra assistance.

6. Web standards

Speaking of best-practices, there are whole range of standardised specifications for every aspect of website development. (Including HTML5, CSS3, WCAG, WAI-ARIA, RDF, etc.) We call these “web standards”. One of their primary focuses is the idea that, from a code perspective, a website should make sense. We call this “semantics”. A website with semantic code can be read, not just by humans, but by search engines, assistive technologies, and any sort of web browser. That means more exposure for your content, increased results, and a better World Wide Web for everyone.

7. Performance

Patience is low on the internet. The stats show that if your website takes a long time to load, your customer is likely to click that “back” button and go somewhere else. Making sure your website is snappy requires attention to detail at every level. Cloud hosting, caching, Content Delivery Networks, clean code, normalised database, compressed images, aggregated assets, the list goes on.

8. Security

Malicious hackers write programs that scour the web looking for weaknesses that will let them take over a website, emails, or a server, or gather sensitive information like passwords and credit card details. Even the simplest web form has the potential to introduce a vulnerability to your website. Luckily, there are a lot of security measures out there that are increasingly easy to apply. As exploits are discovered, dedicated security teams around the world release information on how to protect against them. The most important thing is that a website is built with a focus on security, and then undergoes ongoing security maintenance and updates throughout its life. Security isn't a one-time consideration. It must be regularly maintained.

9. Cross-browser compliance

If you are still using Internet Explorer, it is probably time to check out some of the great, free, modern web browsers around. Each web browser has its own great features, but some older browsers don’t follow web standards when it comes to displaying websites. That means, if you’re not careful, your website could look very different on another browser, or even not function the same way. It is important to test a website in all the major browsers before going live.

10. Future-proof technologies

With new technologies and devices coming out all the time, it is important that websites are built on a strong, flexible base that will allow them to grow and change in the future. Using best-practices from the start can help you avoid headaches down the track. This is somewhere that open-source technology shines.

So next time you see a website design that “looks pretty normal”, take a moment to consider just how much thought and intention has gone into it behind the scenes.

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