by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow
Website design is a complicated process. However, it is often assumed that the process is much more simple than it is. It’s more than picking some colors, sketching a layout and coding it to match. The timeline to create or redesign a really good website can take months. Great websites are often built on complex information architectures that go unnoticed exactly because they work so well.
This post is the first in a posts on web design that will be published this month. If you ever wondered what makes a really great website, this series will give you a sneak peek into the behind the scenes process. And it has less to do with coding than you think. We’re starting off with five common assumptions about website design that couldn’t be more wrong.
1. Looks matter most
Looks do matter. This is not a baseless assumption. But looks are not the only thing that matters in website design, and they may not be the most important thing that matters. You can have an amazing, jaw-dropping website, but if your audience cannot find the information they need or complete the task they are trying to do, they will leave. And they won’t come back.
In this situation, it doesn’t matter how great your website looks. If the website is unusable, it will fail. Usability is often what separates the good websites from the great websites. Why do you think Google and Facebook spend so much time and money constantly updating the menus and the functions of their websites? Usability. They want their audience to be able to do and find everything they want with the least amount of barriers.
These big name companies have discovered that if they focus their attention towards usability, people are happy to stay longer and come back more often. No bait and switch required. They provide quality content in a manner that their audience can intuitively find and use. That is their selling tactic, and that is what successfully gains and retains visitors in this digital age.
2. People will do what I expect them to
You may know your business and what people are looking for, but most likely you don’t know how they will look for it. Even if you think you do. Most business owners suffer from the same issue — you know too much about your business. Your expectations of your customers is based on your experience with your company. Sometimes this experience is what prevents you from truly getting to know and understand your customer base.
Most people when they are trying to navigate your website will follow their instincts to locate the information they are looking for. Where they are looking relates very closely to how they are forming the question in their head. If you are not anticipating this question correctly, based on their level of knowledge and experience, your website’s navigation will not match up with their intuitive sense of direction. If your navigation doesn’t match up with what they think instinctively, then your website will be frustrating to use.
How do Google and Facebook attack this issue? They test where people expect to find information and then build their sites to match those expectations. They don’t guess or assume. They ask the question, do the research, and build on the findings.
3. My online audience behaves the same as my physical audience
Do you remember your Mom telling you to use your inside voice as a kid? We are trained to link specific behaviors with specific settings. Therefore, if the setting changes, our behavior can change as well. Your audience in a physical setting, like a storefront, will not behave the same way on your website. Here’s why.
When they are in your store, they have physically committed the majority of their attention to you and your products. They have already spent time traveling to the location, and now they must physically and mentally navigate the store in order to complete their task in coming. However, visiting a website online does not require this much commitment. Because it can be found at any place and time it is convenient for them, it does not take on the same level of commitment. In fact, when they are online, they are rarely focusing on just you and your products.
We are in the age of distractibility and multi-taskers. The introduction of smartphones and tablets have only increased these behaviors and issues in the online medium. While viewing your website, a person could be outside, shielding a glaring screen, talking to a friend, trying to cross the street, receiving a text message, and uploading a photo to Instagram all at once. In this type of environment, you do not have their full attention. And if you ask for more of their attention than they are willing to give you, then they will abandon your website in favor of one of the other 10 tasks they are doing in that moment.
4. When I hire a website designer, I just wait for the finished product
Website designers are experts in what they do. They are not experts in what you do. In order to build a website that effectively showcases what you do and reaches your customers, the designer will need your assistance and input. The more you work with them, educating them about your business, its needs, its constraints, and so on, the better the website they can build for you.
5. Once it’s built, I’ll never have to touch it
All websites have some aspect of maintenance, in one form or another. Even if you aren’t selling products or running a blog, there is information on your website that is subject to change. When that happens, you need to be able to update that information so your website and your brand don’t look outdated.
Website maintenance is why Shift normally recommends and builds websites on the WordPress platform. WordPress is user-friendly for even the least technical users because it allows you to update pages through a visual editor. The coding that the web designer created does the rest.
The Next Post…
If you’ve enjoyed this article, watch for my next post, Website Design PT2: You Have Users, where I’ll be explaining the basics to understanding an online audience. The post will go live on Thursday, August 14.