Most of us think we can recognise a good website when we see one, but the enormous number of poor websites out there is clear proof that website design is incredibly easy to get wrong. It’s not just that the design styling of so many sites is unpleasing but they are often poorly organised and confusing, unwelcoming and (quite simply) unprofessional.
Research indicates that visitors get a clear-cut impression of a website in under half a second and, if that impression is unfavorable, they can bounce off just as quickly. When the visitor perseveres they may still get no further than the homepage, which is why the strategy of the design here is critical. Most of us are pressed for time and our behavior on the Internet only emphasises how hurried, impatient or fickle our attention can be.
In the brief amount of time we take to look and appraise a website once we have arrived, we are making both conscious and subconscious decisions. Colours, layout, clarity and eye-appeal are working at different levels while we assess the content based on the words we first read and the image we first see. Scientific studies of eye-tracking show how we like to quickly understand the design logic of a web page and feel like we have some control over our presence there. Sometimes we also like to be surprised “ even amazed, but never stuck or confused. We always know that it only takes one click to get out of there.
It’s called user experience and if you get the first stage right this is what encourages your site visitors to spend some time, quickly giving them what they came for if they are in a hurry; providing places to linger and gather useful or entertaining information if it will help them bond with you and regard you as an immediate or eventual supplier of services or products.
At all stages of the visitor’s time on your website you should have prepared the way for their expectations and ease of use, considered what questions they are likely to have and made the answers convenient to find. There needs to be a logic to the way information and interactive elements on the site integrate, especially the navigation system. Top quality website design is about visual ergonomics, an efficient mixture that includes: easy-to-use, responsive and pleasant to look at.
Creating a website that meets all these requirements is a job for an expert, or a team of experts really. The cooperation of talented individuals with different specialisms should combine to make a great website in the same way that expertise is brought together to make a great advertising commercial. In the case of a website you have a unique marketing medium that can encompass advertising, direct marketing, public relations and retailing in one powerful package when you get it right.
We would be interested in hearing about any particularly good or bad websites you’ve visited. Tell us what you think makes them succeed or fail and how you think they could be improved.