I’m not a designer. That’s putting it mildly by the way. My skills consist of knowing what I want and knowing when to ask for help.
That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize a good design though. I don’t pretend to know more than designers (did you catch this hilarious post with posters from a web designers about stuff his clients tell him?), but I do have a strong opinion on what’s most important about web design.
Hint: It has nothing to do with ‘beautiful’, or however you define a pretty design.
There are two aspects of web design that are more important than anything else:
Web design has to be logical
Web design has to work
Logical Web Design
The first seems logical, but it would surprise you how many sites fail in this area. A logical design means you use the right shapes, the right colors, the right places for your elements for instance.
Let me give you an example.
People associate green with doing something (accept, go, confirm) and red with not doing something (stop, delete, deny). But the other day I was on a website where the red button was the ‘confirm’ button. It took me a while to figure out that was the button I needed to click.
It’s the same with shapes. The bigger button is usually the positive one, the one you want people to click on. That’s why you make it bigger. Don’t try to be clever here and use a smaller button, it will lead people to make mistakes and may even make them leave your site.
A logical place for buttons seems a given, but it’s not. Don’t make people actually read or click though dozens of forms before they can ‘accept’ something. Yup, some may want to read the fine print and that’s perfectly okay. Just don’t make them do something they don’t want to.
Another element that’s often hidden is the search box (and yes, on most sites a search box is an essential element). What are the first places you look? Sidebars, top menu or even bottom menu. That’s it. Don’t hide it anywhere else. And don’t use an ad that looks like a search box, like I saw on a photo site yesterday. It did confuse me and I did put in my search entry there, only to discover it led me to a completely different site. Not okay and not nice.
Make you web design logical; give people what they expect where they expect it.
Web Design that Works
Another crucial aspect of web design is that it has to actually work. Again, seems like a given, but sadly it’s not.
When your site is so big it takes forever to load, it doesn’t work. People will not wait 30 seconds for all your high res pictures and 200 WordPress plugins to load. So test your loading speed, on various devices (mobile, yes please!) and with various browsers.
I don’t even need to point out (again) the need for testing your site for compatibility on mobile devices, right? Yet just yesterday I could not find the info I was looking for on the site of a major retailer because it would not display properly on my phone. That is so 2007.
Another element that often doesn’t work is web forms. One practical example: before I moved to the States, I would regularly buy stuff from American sites and have it shipped to Europe. Except a bunch of these sites have web forms that only allow for an American type of zip code, meaning five digits. In Holland, a zip code consist of four digits and two letters however. Yeah, that doesn’t work. Another example: I still had an unresolved issue with our phone company in Germany. I tried to fill out a web form, but what do you know: you can’t fill out a web form unless you still have a German phone number. Which I don’t have anymore, obviously.
These are just two examples of crazy rigid web forms that have caused me problems. Are your web forms flexible enough to accommodate for exceptions, special entries, stuff like that?
In the last few weeks I kept a list of annoying issues I came across on web sites, proving that (at least for me) they didn’t work:
- A complicated web form where I had to fill out loads on info, but that had no option to ‘save’ it in between. I was scared of hitting a bug and losing everything, so I kept copy-pasting to Word just in case.
- Another site had an equally long web form…and a time out of ten minutes, after which I had to log in again. Such a bother.
- Broken links…more than I could count.
- Not properly displaying special characters, like & or letters with accents (ü é etc.)
- ‘You have encountered a system error’ kind of messages. OK, so every once in a while it may be my side that’s at fault. But not every time.
- Error messages after hitting ‘Order’ only to get an email conforming the order.
- Completely unreadable security questions, or captcha’s (can we just ban these please?).
- A not functioning ‘Enter Now’ button on a contest page.
- A link to Google Maps on the ‘Directions’ page of a hospital that gave directions to the wrong address, not kidding.
- Crazy requirements on pass words. Why make this so hard for people?
- A required login name that you cannot change and that’s impossible to remember.
- And of course then there’s anything that autoplays, auto pops up, etc.
In short: Build a website that is logical and that works. Then make it look pretty 🙂