How you reach the final design of a website is such an important part of the creation or redesign process, it cannot be overstated. So much rides on how your website looks, acts and feels to the visitor. The design or aesthetics is tightly tied into the functionality and structure of your site, and the three must really be tackled together and work together seamlessly.
The companies with the best websites have put a lot of thought into what they want to get out of their site. Sitting down to really think about what the company wants to accomplish (business reasons for the website), and having a plan for the site will be invaluable. What has been a challenge with the current site? Is the new design flexible enough to add new features without having to overhaul the entire site as the company moves forward? What do you really need from your website and how can you best attain that?
Let’s take a look at three key elements of a website design that can help any company attain its goals: structure, functionality, and aesthetics.
There is the classification of your content (taxonomy), and then the physical structuring of your content. Which sections can you group together in the menu? Are there clearly delineated categories and subcategories? Which should be publicly available and which should be restricted (member) content? The content of your menus and the placement of your navigation is extremely important, and needs to be discussed at an early stage. The whole development of your website hinges on how your site will be set up.
Do you want your navigation to be across the top of the page, which would then free up the left side of your content area – either for sub-navigation or more content? Or should your navigation stick to the left or right sides and either expand below each category via more choices or in a dropdown or flyout menu? There is even footer navigation, which is generally used as a global (entire site) navigation. Which of these is right for your site’s content?
Some structural considerations:
- Navigation placement
- Log in placement – is it easy to find where your audience needs to log in?
- Logo and branding – is your website identifiable with your company? Is the logo presented with enough emphasis or is it unclear who the site belongs to? (Hint: size matters.)
- Search – is it easy to find where the search field is? Does the website’s search engine return the expected results?
- Social media presence – do you use social media icons to link to your respective accounts, or would you have your social media feeds represented right on the homepage?
- Real estate. Homepage real estate is at a premium – which content is a must have versus a nice to have?
- Advertisement placement – are there advantageous places to put advertising on the homepage or internal pages without compromising your content areas yet still please the advertiser?
While it is easy to get caught up in new colors, fonts and a pleasing design, it is imperative that web editors keep an eye out so that a website’s design or redesign is not prohibitive to the functionality. Can your audience find what it needs to? Is the navigation intuitive? If you have to explain your navigation, back to the drawing board! If you click on something, do you get what you expect or is it unclear on where you need to go? Are the labels for the navigation buttons clear or vague?
Keep it simple. This is the best advice anyone will ever give you for website design or redesign. Just as you would not put up obstacles in front of your company’s business so that people could not reach the actual building and services inside, so too you must provide clear and easy access to your website’s information and content. On the other hand, your company’s expertise must be available, but not overpowering to what the customer is looking for. What questions does your audience come to your website to find answers for? These answers should be readily discoverable.
How do you know if your audience can find what it needs? Having your audience help you test your website pre-launch can be invaluable. After all, they are the people who will be using your site. Can they find what they are expecting to find? Here are two great articles on that topic:
- Quality Testing Your Site (https://webeditorhome.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/quality-testing-your-site/) and
- Usability in Redesign
Are the colors, fonts and overall design pleasing aesthetically to you and your audience? Stay away from blinking icons or annoying colors that are hard to read against the background colors. Is there enough contrast between body text and the background – consider the color blind or visually challenged. Does the color scheme enhance the navigation (are the navigation buttons all the same color? Does content that should be grouped together “hang” together visually?)?
Look at the design critically – what stands out in a good way? What stands out like a sore thumb? Leave enough time in your design process to refine features. Does text slam up against your images or graphics? Or is there some “white space” between images and text? Is the design easy to look at or do people squint or grimace when they see it? Is your content cluttering your pages or is it neatly organized and easy to digest?
The Best Site for All
Keeping these three elements at the forefront of your website design or redesign process will help you make your site the best it can be. Finding the right balance and making these elements work together cohesively will only serve you and your customers better. Keep it simple!