Now that there is so much ‘drag and drop’ software to help with web design, it is easy to think that anyone can design a website. While it is possible to create a pretty site using such software, there is more to the process of planning and developing a site than initially meets the eye.
When I was taught web design we used Steven Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. It was here that I learned the principles of usability web design and how important it is that designers understand and use them. “Usability” may sound a bit technical and dull, but it as Krug says, it “really just means making sure that something works well: that a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can use the thing – whether its a web site, a fighter jet, or a revolving door – for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.” And that is a good goal for every site!
You will have experienced sites for yourself that are difficult to navigate, which don’t provide a quick way to find information about the business or organization to see if it is a ‘good fit’ for you, and which have the initial pages full of jargon-laced information that make it the site unwelcoming to a new visitor. Such sites tend to come from ignorance of the design process – or the ego of the designer…
Part of the problem with web design is that sites are essentially ‘bi-polar’, that is, they have to address the needs of both first time visitors as well as existing clients or members.
It is also important to consider the background and experience level of the site visitor. It is easy to assume that what you know about being online and using a computer is ‘common knowledge’, but watch someone else perform a computer task – like finding and opening up a file. You might be surprised by the different route they take to get to the same end result as you, or marvel at the 20 steps it takes them to find a file amongst the sea of similarly-named shortcuts scattered all over their desk top.
A fairly recent twist is that with the rise in people using smart phones and tablets to access the web, sites now need to be ‘responsive’, that is, easily used on all screen sizes from a phone to a desktop screen, and taking into account that a smaller device is being operated with a finger or thumb, not a mouse cursor. Information on the pages also has to scale and move to fit the device so the viewer can still easily navigate through the information.
If a website is designed not to be responsive, such as the ACS Extend sites, then it is wise to have a separate mobile version of the site created. A small piece of code on the main site triggers the mobile version to appear when the site is accessed by a mobile device, so the visitor doesn’t have to stop and decide which version of the site they need.
Remember, you are investing time and money in a site to attract new customers or members, in addition to bringing information to existing ones. To get full value from investing in a new site, hire someone – like me – with usability web design experience to get a user-friendly and attractive site!