There is one basic step to determining what design is right for you: articulate and prioritize your web goals. There are two basic approaches to web design: designing by preference and designing for specific goals. Visitors generally prefer a design that caters to their experience and does not contradict (in a negative way) their expecations.
The goal of this post is to provide a resource to my clients, potential clients and regular visitors, that will help to determine what kind of design is right for your clients and what kinds of web design visitors generally prefer.
How to Determine the Right Web Design
There is one step to determine the right web design for you.
Step 1: Articulate the goals you have for your website. Usually there are quite a few so it would be helpful to write them down. Once you have them written down, order your goals by priority.
Take your time. List all your goals.
Now that you have your goals written down, match your goals with the approach to web design that is most aligned to them.
There are two basic approaches to site design (that are relevant to the people who read this):
- Design by preference, yours and/or your designers
- Design for specific goals
Design by Preference
Designing by preference would be fine for a personal blog or hobby forum as long as there is nothing at stake. Designing by preference means that the design priority is mostly about what you like and dislike. I am not suggesting that preference is always the contrary point to designing for specific goals.
Here is an example of what I mean:
Let’s say you like the color blue. You like it so much that you want the background color of your site to be blue and you also want blue text. The blues that you have chosen for each don’t provide a great contrast which makes the text very difficult to read. If you are just doing a blog for fun that’s fine, but, if it’s important that people be able to read what you are writing, a better design choice needs to be made.
Designing by preference also allows room for novelty that just often should not be there with goal focused design. I’m not using novelty as synonymous with innovation. The distinction I am drawing between novelty and innovation is that novelty is a matter of preference whereas innovation would solve a problem.
Imagine you are sick and tired of the typical way navigation is handled on web sites, so you change it. You put all your links in the text of your site at different places. That’s definitely a novel way to handle on site linking. And as long as you aren’t relying on your visitors for something, that really is up to you. But, if you are wanting people to discover your content you would do well to structure your site navigation in a way that people have come to expect.
If you are designing by preference, content design will also just be a matter of what you like. That means you wouldn’t need to consider the readability of your page content for instance.
When designing by preference, first and foremost the goal of the design is to have a site that looks good to you. Everyone wants a site that looks good to them, but not everyone should have that as their guideline for design.
Design for Specific Goals
If there is money involved, there are goals to be met. Many of your web goals will not be primarily about money.
For example your main goal might be to:
- Allow people to stream your music – Build an audience
- Volunteer time – Build a volunteer base
- Provide an online portfolio – Build clientele
- Provide niche recipes
- Connect with you and others – generate phone calls, email, forums etc.
- Many other goals
Design for Specific Goals: Design Around What Your Visitors Will be Doing on Your Site
Much of this approach to web design revolves around the answer to the question: “What tasks/activities will your web visitors be performing?”
Ask what your visitors will be doing on your website, because, a crucially large part of their overall impression and experience of you will be reflective of the ease with which they can accomplish the activities on your site. Their activities might include learning, purchasing, contacting, getting a phone number etc.
List a few of the main activities your visitors will be doing on your site.
Pick a page or two (if you don’t currently have a site then imagine a page or two on your future site), walk through the steps your visitors will be taking.
What would make it easier for your visitors to take these steps?
Or try this stay at home field trip:
Go visit a few of the sites you like.
Pay attention to the steps you have to take to get what you are looking for.
Could they make your life easier? How?
How do the steps compare to your site?
The activities your visitors will be doing will be reflective of their reasons for visiting. Your web goals will be inseparably connected to the reasons people are visiting.
Design for Specific Goals: Goal Driven Design Approach Prefers Users Preferences
Goal driven design has user preference in mind. User preferences are a bottom line issue, bottom lines are the web goals to achieve. Of course you can not accommodate every preference, that’s not what I mean.
Approach your visitors’ web expectations with empathy.
“Users prefer websites with low visual complexity and high prototypicality.” “Designs that contradict what users typically expect of a website may trigger a suboptimal first impression and impair users’ expectations.” These are quotes from a study by google in 2012. You can read the full study, “The role of visual complexity and prototypicality regarding first impression of websites: Working towards understanding aesthetic judgments,” here (link goes to pdf).
Users’ design preferences are layered. There will be design expectations reflective of your visitors’ industry experiences. There will also be expectations based on general web experience.
Remember this: We have all earned the right to leave. Slow loading pages, interfaces that don’t work, content that can’t be found are all factors that contribute to creating a poor web experiences.
Goal driven design allows new and returning visitors to discover new content.
Design for Specific Goals: Industry Distinction
Most likely you are not the first of your kind in your industry. You have a narrow window of time to distinguish your website from others in your industry to your visitors. More about first impressions here, “First Impressions: Get it Right the First Time.”
How would you like to be remembered by your visitors?
Check out some of your industry colleagues or competition websites.
What could they do better to make it easier for their visitors to get what they are looking for?
What are some of the trends you see regarding design?
Make a note of your initial reactions, what is creating these for you?
What is missing that their visitors might be looking for?
Web Design, Content and Function are not in Tension
It is often the case that articles focusing on web design, content or function discuss these as though they are in tension. Empathy is the missing ingredient.
The point is the right content, design and function.
I am generally of the opine that online, form follows function. Visitors are mostly focused on what they get from a website, not how it looks.
That being said, how a website looks is a key ingredient in the overall positive or negative feeling visitors walk away with. How it looks, is not necessarily about snappy graphics. As mentioned above, familiarity of design and structure play a significant role in what a person takes away.
Smart looking graphics can have a positive impact on how persuasive your content is.
The point is to approach your visitors with empathy to determine the right content, design and function for their experience.