Design on the Web Differs From Creative Advertising

Web design contains many of the principles of print related graphic design such as typography, general visual aesthetic, color theory, placement of elements in order to lead the eye to a place of interest, breaking up information so that is is easily digestible, and many other principles that go into creating effective design.

So what’s the difference on the web? Why can’t we apply the same principles to create effective website design? There are many reasons for this — and the first one that might come to most people’s minds is that website’s are built on “code” -and hence the designer must have at least a general understanding of how this code structure works, to be able to effectively design for the medium. This is true, and I recommend designers understand XHTML, CSS, some javascript, and some flash, as well as what the back-end languages like.php and.net can do — however knowing how to actually program is not a requirement. Even though it is not a requirement it is recommend that a web designer understands the languages intimately so that he can design much more effectively and efficiently. An understanding better than just basic, will also help a designer communicate with a web developer (or a web programmer) this is the essential synergy that is necessary to design, build and create great web experiences!

So, let’s say I understand the programming and I am an awesome designer — what else should I know in order to create great websites as a designer? The next thing is structure, or architecture. This is a the foundation and grid of your layout, and there are specific grids that are proven to be effective in the design of websites. It also refers to the placement of elements on the screen, and the placement and proximity of these elements will either drive people through your site to deeper areas of information or drive them right off your website and on to one of the other websites that might have similar content but are easier to navigate and find the information or service that they are looking for. This is the reason that the logical stricture and architectures of your web design be done right — simply because there are so many other websites out there and it is a lot easier for someone to click to another site than it is for someone to put down the print-related graphically designed communication they are reading or looking at. The amount of choices and quick ability to abandon a website make this factor of great importance. Architecture also refers to the navigation structure and how pieces of information are logically broken down into digestible pieces for the website visitor. It is a necessity for a web designer to be able to create visually pleasing designs as well as formulate a logical structure — this is easier said than done. Visual or creative people tend to be less concerned with structure and logic, which is why a web designer requires a special trait — they need to balance the two often opposing sides, or the right-brain and left-brain in order to create effective designs for the web.

So far we have awesome graphically and visually appealing design, an intimate understanding of the programming underneath the designs and we are able to balance our design into a logical, clear and concise structure so people can find what they are looking for, when they want it! What else do we need as an effective web designer? Let’s call this one “on-page strategy”. On-page strategy will enhance the user experience by combining the above three principles into something called strategy. Web design strategy depends greatly on a very good “discovery” period — this looks at the competitor landscape, it reviews the main objective of the website as well as the secondary and tertiary objectives of the business and the website. On page strategy also includes a good SEO (search engine optimization) plan. SEO entails a good coding structure so that your valuable web design copy can be deciphered not only by the humans that read your website, but also by the search engines, so that they can rank your information and index it on their search engines — and in turn making the vast amount of people able to find your website. It examines the information and makes decisions based on this information.

Then we have “off-page strategy” which refers to how other web sites will lead people into your website — sort of like road signs that take people straight on to the street that your site lives. Some off page strategy includes advertising and link building, good public relations, article writing, web sit submission to directories and of course social media.

So, in summary web design requires a whole new set of skills and an expansion of the palette of a print-related art director or graphic designer. Throw in some motion design experience, video experience, maybe a dash of 3D and the art of simplicity and you’re well on the road to designing great website experiences that are effective!

How Much Text Should You Place on a Web Page?

A frequent question that arises amongst web designers is how much text should be placed on a web page. However many web designers use decisions based on subjective feelings rather than basing their decisions on quantitative research.

Page density refers to the proportion of a web page that is occupied by text and graphics whilst white space is the portion of the page where nothing is displayed. The percentage of page white space and the percentage of the page density will amount to 100%.

Long before viewing hypertext pages on the web researchers conducted studies to investigate the relationship between the amount of information contained on a page and the amount of time that it took for a user to find an item as part of a predefined task.  Not surprisingly and in accordance with what many would intuitively think they found that the more information that was placed on a screen then the longer it took to complete the task.

In light of this research many authors have suggested guidelines on the amount of information that should be presented to users at any one time.  Some authors have issued guidelines stating that screen densities of 25% shouldn’t be exceeded at one end of the scale and 60% at the other.  However one aspect these items didn’t cover which the web designer or web developer should be aware (but frequently aren’t) is that other components of a web page have a significant effect on a web users interaction with a website and consequently the effectiveness of the site other than just the page density.

Furthermore, the main question for a web designer who has a fixed amount of information to present on a webpage is what page density to use as that will directly affect the number of pages required by the site.

One study tried to address this question by presenting a fixed amount of information with different numbers of pages. There were a large number of low density pages, a medium number of average density pages and a low number of high density pages. Other factors such as the need to scroll the screens of information were removed from the study.

What the result of this investigation found and should be remembered by web designers at all times is that performance was significantly faster on the low number of high density pages, with the performance being worst on the high number of low density pages. Another interesting attribute of this investigation was that there was little difference between novice and experienced users, high density pages always won.

These results suggest, to a certain extent, that the best approach for web design is that lots of information should be placed on a webpage as densely as possible without risking the loss of user accuracy or satisfaction. This will also result in a lower number of web pages which a user will have to navigate through. Some people may take this to the apparent logical conclusion that everything should be placed on one page. However, to keep the web designer on his toes, other factors come into play, such as the need to scroll and how the information is presented on page, let alone the time to load individual pages.

A further study which supports high page densities which involved users searching for information on commercial websites found that the more white space, the less successfully people found information. The authors however speculated that although this aided readers who were looking for specific information, it may not be helpful to people skimming pages, who will be most successful when they can skim the most material the most quickly.

However before the web designer or web developer set out to create the ultimate web design there are other design tricks that can increase the effectiveness of a web site.  There are four items that should be remembered:

  • Abbreviations. By using abbreviations which the users will be familiar with rather than the full text the density of information that be conveyed in a limited number of words is dramatically increased.
  • Reduce unnecessary detail. Don’t get carried away with superfluous detail. Winston Churchill once apologised for writing a long letter to someone as he didn’t have time to write a concise letter. Spend time by rigorously reducing the amount of unnecessary text.
  • Familiar format and presentation. By presenting information to users in a familiar way so that they don’t have to think increases the speed and accuracy. Examples of this would be presenting dates in d/m/y format for Europe and m/d/y for the US. Other items would include postcodes (zip codes), thousands separators and telephone numbers (don’t use full international numbers if the users will be from the same locality).
  • Tabulate. If information can be presented in table form then the web design should reflect that. Tables have the advantage of allowing the use of descriptive column and row headings that exquisitely eliminate the need to keep repeating the same label to data elements. The result being the same amount of information with reduced text.

By being aware of these web design guidelines it is possible to create a web site that will allow users to effectively interact and leave a lasting good impression of your hard work.

Choosing a Web Package – A Guideline

One of the very first questions you need to ask yourself is: Why do I need a web site? Several answers might pop up; to boost my sales, to make myself known, to have a reference for my clients, to start a new business,…the list can go on and on…but how do you determine what’s right for you and your business?

The way to evaluate possible contenders for the job is to ask the right questions. Here are some questions you cannot afford not to ask.

In reference to the company that provides web services, you should ask…

1. Are they offering just web development, or, just web hosting, or do they have a vast range of services linked to the web industry?…i.e. do they offer the whole spectrum of services linked with web sites?

2. How do their prices compare to other companies who are providing the same services?

3. How flexible are they to my requirements…a) do they offer extra pages? b) do they offer additional hosting? c) is support part of the price I’m paying?

4. Do they offer dynamic sites? Normally this would give an indication of how experienced their programmers are in developing sites.

5. Are there any references to ‘search engine optimization’ on their site? If not, most probably they are not going to write my site in a way that major search engines can find it and rank it highly.

6. Do they offer search engine optimization? This is very important if I need to rank high and make the task for prospective customers to find me an easy one.

These are questions you should ask and if in doubt don’t hesitate to contact the company before investing your money in them. Most importantly they need to have fast and reliable support, although this can only be verified when it’s too late, i.e. you have already paid for it.

Other decisions you need to take is how your web site should look like. Do you require a static site with a lot of content, or minimum content with impressive graphics, sounds and animations? This would obviously depend on the nature of your business and the way you need to promote your image. The company you choose need to have enough experience to help you make this decision based on your business’ perspectives.

Whatever the case, as in nearly all things in life, a moment of reflection and some research are fundamental in order to make the right decision.