It is important to consider websites from all relevant points of view. Websites should have great design and be visually appealing, but more importantly it is a digital representation of you or your business that integrates technical aspects like: user experience, conversion paths, search engine optimization, loading time, sales facilitation, brand awareness, & more.
Many people don’t realize the full story of what goes into building a website, so when they hire a web designer, they may get a website that looks great, but perhaps isn’t so top-notch under the hood. It’s like buying a house: the house might be really charming and spacious and great looking from the outside, but what about the old plumbing? Do you really want your toliet backing up on you all the time? Or the electricity? Do you really want to keep the original electrical wiring from when the house was built in 1905?
I also realize that many people don’t know what it is that website designers do. It’s not just pixel-pushing. And it’s definitely not just translating whatever the client wants into code. Plus, there is a difference between a web designer and a web developer, though many individuals do both. Web development is different from straight-up programming. And most web designers/developers are not also UX designers, social media managers, web masters, or marketers. But all of these functions are often necessary when building a website, depending on the type of website you want.
So what should your website consider?
1. UX (User Experience) & UI (User Interface)
Contrary to popular belief, design is NOT just about making a website that looks good. One of the most important things to consider when designing websites is that websites are not simply static images that sit there, like graphic posters or billboards. Actual human beings need to be able to interact with your website.
UX and UI are basically about designing experiences for people (your users, customers, clients), not for technology, not for large organizations, and not for yourself. Though visual appeal plays a large part in good UX, UX is mainly about a good functional experience for your audience, how things are perceived, learned, and used. (Consequently many UX Designers often have backgrounds in Psychology, Cognitive Science, or other related fields since it involves so much thinking about the human-as-user element.)
Some of the things that go into this process are thinking about the information architecture of the site, the various interaction models that a user might encounter, and the actual components that users will interact with (ie. filling out forms, playing a video, or adding items to a shopping cart). So UX designers often create site maps and wireframes and that can model user paths and behavior. Good UX and UI are going to help make sure, for example, that the landing page is optimized for maximum conversion rate, helping a website reach business goals.
UX and UI are really closely linked, and for the purposes of this post, we don’t really need to go into the nitty gritty differences. But there is an important saying about UI:
“Good UI is invisible.”
Basically, this means that a good user interface is going to be intuitive, efficient, and easy for the user. It’s going to facilitate conversions and easy website navigation. It’s going to allow for seamless interaction between website and user. Thinking about link hover states, alt. text, form elements, and media player interfaces are all part of UI, as well as usability testing and graphic elements.
Strong UI + UX + strong branding can turn a website into something that a user might just glance at for a few seconds to get the piece of information they’re looking for, into something that a user might continue to explore for 20 minutes and remember months later.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs
“Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it. Think of it like a room’s air conditioning. We only notice it when it’s too hot, too cold, making too much noise, or the unit is dripping on us. Yet, if the air conditioning is perfect, nobody say anything and we focus, instead, on the task at hand.” – Jared Spool
“Design is not primarily supposed to entertain or to be nice or to aesthetically please. It’s supposed to perform.” – Oliver Reichenstein
“Design is directed toward human beings. To design is to solve human problems by identifying them and executing the best solution.” – Ivan Chermayeff
2. Information Architecture (IA) / Navigation
Information architecture, for websites, refers to the actual structure ie. the way information is organized and grouped, and the navigation methods used within the structure.
In Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites, information architecture is defined as:
- The combination of organization, labeling, and navigation schemes within an information system.
- The structural design of an information space to facilitate task completion and intuitive access to content.
- The art and science of structuring and classifying web sites and intranets to help people find and manage information.
- An emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
People usually notice information architecture only when it is poor and stops them from finding the information they’re looking for. Think about going to a site and looking for a specific piece of information. The driving directions to a specific business for example, or a specific product on an e-commerce site.
One common problem with information architectures is that they simply mimic a company’s organizational structure, not taking into consideration who the website is really for: the user. So of course, information architecture is closely tied with good UX.
Good information architecture + good UX is going to help increase conversions, help accomplish business goals, keep users from becoming frustrated and leaving, and help search engine optimization.
A good website design will incorporate and build brand identity. Branding, is not just using company colors and making sure to have the logo visible at the top. The overall design of the website will convey the visual brand, while still being consistent, clean, and professional. In other words, good branding utilizes good art direction.
When building a new website, it might be a good time too to reflect on your brand’s identity and logo. Especially if you’re a smaller business and are still building your brand’s identity, this might be a good opportunity to rethink your logo design and the way that your website is going to market your business.
Branding too, isn’t just visual. Good UX and IA will reflect on the business identity. If a user becomes frustrated with the functionality of your site, what will they think of your company? Good branding adds legitimacy and credibility.
Branding is about language too. It’s not just what is being said, but how it is being said. The style, tone, and word choice will all reflect back on the brand, plus help with increasing your web presence and search engine optimization.
4. Front End Web Engineering – Clean & Efficient Code
This is one that is often overlooked by clients because frankly, they usually don’t see the code or don’t understand what it means so take for granted that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
“Not all code is created equal.”
Often times web designers focus on the visual and aesthetic aspects of putting together a website. After all, the visual side is what most people see. But scrambling together bits and pieces of code, or using outside design software (ie. Dreamweaver, Expression Engine) will make a website that “works,” yes, but just “working” is not good enough.
Also, though not exactly on the code side of things, websites should be optimized in general, including limiting the number of requests it makes to the server and optimizing images (or other media) to generally make your website faster. (ie. Photos and images are one of the most common perpetrators of slow load time)
5. Good Copywriting
Writing good copy for the web is a very specific skill. It incorporates all the characteristics of traditional copy writing (ie. marketing, succinct & persuasive language, punctuation & grammar, etc.), but also mandates a knowledge of web best practices and search engine optimization.
Good copywriting on a website will include among its objectives better search engine optimization (SEO). Copywriters aren’t always SEO experts themselves, so will often work with SEO professionals to collaboratively create text (and code) that will be optimized for both human users and search engines. Although SEO is a key objective, it is important to remember too that the copy will primarily be read by human users, so that it also represents the style, content, and message of the company’s brand. Really great copy, as you may also know, can greatly increase user conversion. Copy that is enticing, clever, memorable, and persuasive can make all the difference in whether a user is going to click that conversion button or not.
6. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization or SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a website in search engines via natural or organic search results. What that means, is that SEO encompasses all the methods and practices to help boost your site in search engine rankings. Now there is a whole science behind SEO, but generally speaking, a lot of SEO is just following web best practices.
This means that things like optimized code, good markup, & good copy are all factors in making your side a more “trusted site” by search engines like Google. Search engines like Google are changing their algorithms all the time (which are secret, by the way), but following best practices and keeping up-to-date on news will help with SEO. (For example, Google now takes into consideration optimized landing pages and loading time. Plus they are starting to index Facebook comments.)
7. Social Media Integration
Growing a social media and digital presence is increasingly important for small businesses and individuals. Not only does a wide social media network and influence help promote your brand and engage with customers, it also helps SEO and increase conversions.
Web designers are not social media managers or marketers, but a good understanding of how to properly social media into a brand's digital presence is crucial. This includes strategic placement of social media buttons on the website's landing page, but social media integration can go further than that, depending on the level of engagement and business goals. This means thinking carefully about how both your website and social media presence fit in to your digital presence and marketing strategy.
If social media engagement and activity are important to your brand, your website and/or blog should make it easy for users to immediately share your content to their networks. You may offer special offers through social media outlets, or pages that can only be accessed first from Facebook. You may run special marketing offers or contests that create the need for further integration. You may want to feature feeds that show updates from your social media accounts on your website. The list goes on.
It's also important that your social media pages themselves are customized according to your brand identity. Facebook, for example, allows you to create custom landing pages that can help increase customer engagement, website traffic, and conversion rates.
8. Mobile Ready
With increased mobile usage and devices, it’s more important than ever to consider mobile when designing your website. Depending on who your users and customers are, a large percentage of them may be accessing your site from a mobile device. If your site isn’t mobile ready, you may be missing out on potential customers, especially if you are a local business.
Remember that mobile design isn’t only about smaller screen size, though that is one issue. Mobile design also needs to take into consideration things like loading time, compatibility issues (ie. Flash), user interaction (touch screen vs. mouse), information architecture.
Why Does Mobile Matter? [from GoMo, An Initiative By Google]:
Alternatively, the best way to go your website might be a responsive web design, one that will work across all browser sizes and will “respond” to its environment. I’m personally a big fan of this approach, and you can read more about it in the link below.
9. Usability Compliance
A website should take into consideration Web Standards and best practices, but also usability compliance and guidelines. This includes usability guidelines for general users, but also for users with various disabilities. These guidelines most apply for certain types of websites in which all users need to be able to access the site (ie. government sites, educational institutions, etc.), but are also useful in opening up access to your website to as many users as possible.
10. Fresh Design
Last but not least, we want a great, fresh design that is visually & aesthetically pleasing, unique, clean & memorable, while still incorporating all the other considerations in this list.
This point is self-explanatory. Basically we want a site that is functional & usable, but also looks great. This of course means a lot of things, and is going to have a lot to do with your company’s brand and business objectives, but also includes aspects like typography, color, tone, spacing, precedence & visual weight while still balancing UX considerations.
Another thing to think about is whether or not you’ll need additional graphics for your website. Will the design call for original illustrations? A new logo design? Professional photography? Vector graphics? Will you need to find an illustrator or photographer for this product, or does your web designer already have artists that they work with?
[Read: Developing Unity in Web Design]
[Find even more resources on website design, social media, SEO, & more on our Resources Page.]