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Archive for November, 2008

Consistency

In this final post of our series on Guidelines for Good Web Design, we’re wrapping it up with the element that ties all of the other pieces together – consistency.

Consistency is critical to good web design to ensure everything matches. Heading sizes, fonts, colors, spacing, navigation, etc. Good web design should be consistently themed to be coherent from one page to the next and within a single page. Consistency is the most important factor that separates websites that are taken seriously and those that are not. Therefore, if you’re in the business of selling online, consistency in your design should be at the top of your priority list.

Consistency in your site design is about being professional. Inconsistencies in your web design are like spelling mistakes – they lower the perception of your professionalism. Whether your design is simple or complex, keeping it consistent will make it appear more professional and trustworthy in the eyes of your visitors.

The simplest way to produce a consistent web design is to do a lot of thinking and second guessing about how your visitors will use your site before it is ever taken live. Also, having good CSS stylesheets can be of a tremendous help in ensuring a consistent and visually appealing design.

Putting it All Together

As previously posted, the Guidelines for Good Web Site Design include the following elements:

  • Design for Scanning – Your site should be easy for your visitors to scan to find the information they’re looking for.
  • White Space – Effective use of white space makes your design look cleaner and helps to keep visitors on the path you want them to take with less distractions.
  • Site Navigation – Your site navigation should be obvious and provide your visitors with a clear sense of where they are on your site.
  • Design to Build – Out of this world web design is great, so long as it isn’t complex to the point of being a barrier to building your site.
  • Text and Formatting – The text you choose for your web site is among the most important design elements you need to consider. Put serious thought into fonts, text colors, font sizes, spacing, etc.
  • Usability – Think about who will be visiting your site, what they want, and what you want them to do. If your site is challenged from a usability perspective – it will also be challenged in creating significant conversion rates.
  • Alignment – Think of the alignment of a site’s design as a grid, with everything fitting squarely in place. The effective use of alignment can also have a positive effect on your conversion rates.
  • Crisp and Sharp Design – Think at the pixel level like a professional web designer would to ensure your design elements look as crisp and professional as possible. Fuzzy graphics, or poorly done text as images, only take away from the professionalism and trustworthiness of your site.
  • Consistency – As addressed in this post. Consistency can be considered as the glue that binds. Regardless of the elements you chose for your site design, consistency is among the most critical.

Click on any of the above links to read the previous posts in this series.

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Crisp and Sharp Web Design

Keeping your web site design looking crisp and sharp requires thinking at the pixel level. Sure, everything in your CSS will be pixel perfect, but in software such as Photoshop you’re going to have to work for it. To achieve a sharp design for your images and graphics you have to:

  • Keep the edges of your images snapped to pixels, which may involve manually cleaning up shapes and lines if you’re working in Photoshop.
  • Make sure any text that is created as an image is sharpened or smoothed for the best effect to match the rest of your web design.
  • Ensure you use high contrast were appropriate to clearly define boarders.

Look at your site, is it truly crisp and sharp across the board? If not, it’s time to start thinking in pixels.

Previous Post – Part 7 of 9

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Alignment in Web Design

All good web designers understand the importance of using alignment to create associations between visual elements of a web page, which helps site visitors easily understand the objects on the page.

Alignment in web design works by visually associating multiple elements in a way that the elements become instinctively related to one another or share some other commonality. In many cases, simply aligning images and text to the left of the page, or centering it, can make a big difference in how the content is perceived.

As a general rule, you can think of the alignment of a website’s design as a grid, with everything fitting squarely in place. As boring as this may sound it works, since it provides a strong sense of order and is easy for the eye to follow. Sure you’ve seen sites that violate the guidelines of structured alignment, and you may even remember them for that reason. However, for most of our needs, a lack of structured alignment takes away from the flow of our message. Especially if the message is to get a visitor to take action when they land on a web page.

Think about how you would respond to two different web pages that were designed to sell you something. The first page used a top left alignment, and the second page used a right bottom alignment. Of course the first page using top left alignment would make a stronger impression, since we instinctively expect important information to be presented in this manner. As simple as this example may seem, it is a good representation of how you should think about the alignment of your web design. In other words, the alignment should follow an instinctive course and offer a clear and flowing association of the various elements used.

As creative and fun as it may be to try new and different alignments in your web design, keep in mind human nature and what best presents the message you want your visitors to receive. Sure there isn’t anything new and exciting about top left alignment in design. However, it works, and if you’re in the business of selling online that’s what is most important. Results.

Previous Post – Part 6 of 9

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In today’s undeniably difficult economic climate, all businesses are cutting costs. Some are tempted to skimp on their investment in ecommerce, viewing it as a marketing expense rather than a line of business. That is a mistake. 

Online retail is growing at 12 times the rate of brick and mortar.

Internet Retailer has announced that online retail sales growth slowed in the third quarter of 2008. It sounds ominous, but the key word there is not ‘slowed’, it’s ‘growth.’ Consumers are increasingly buying online, often in lieu of buying in brick & mortar stores. In fact, the web has become the channel of choice for most shoppers, and the big spenders love that level of control when buying luxury items.

Over time, this trend will only increase, and you will significantly hamper the growth of your business if you’re not prepared. 

What have you done to market your website today?

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Usability

As important as a great looking website is, it’s not going to perform well if it isn’t easy for your visitors to interact with. Therefore, web designers need to ensure they provide for both eye appeal and a site that’s designed for easy use.

Although, we have previously covered some areas of usability such as navigation and text, here are some more important considerations:

Adhering to Standards – When a visitor lands on your web site there are certain things they expect, and not providing them leads to confusion and site abandonment. A basic example is the use of underlined text. If text is underlined, we all expect it to be a link. Doing this is not a good usability practice. Sure, it’s alright to break the mold in some areas of your web design, so long as they aren’t in areas that affect how people instinctively interact with a web site.

Prototyping – Before taking your site live, develop a prototype and test drive it with an open eye for quirks. Often, when you use a design as your visitor’s actually would, you’ll notice even small details that can make a big difference in overall usability and conversion rates. As the mantra for online success goes, “Test, test, and test some more”. The more you test your site, the more successful it will be.

Think about what users will do – In order for your site design to be truly successful, you need to be thinking about what visitors coming to your site will actually do. Take the time to make a list of the different types of tasks visitors might do on your site and the actions you want them to take, such as making a purchase or completing a form. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to understand how to achieve the tasks they want to complete as soon as they land on any page of your site. Therefore, you want to make sure your navigation is optimized site wide for common tasks such as shopping, contacting you, learning more about you, etc. Every page of your site should also have an easily accessible search box for those that need extra help. At the end of the day, good web site design is about producing a site that is easy for your visitors to use while achieving your company goals. Anything less isn’t acceptable.

The more you make your site adhere to conventional standards that users expect, test your site, and think about what your visitors want, the better your site will be. Go ahead, be fresh and daring with your design ideas, just make sure that you don’t break the rules to the point that you confuse your visitors, or reduce the conversion rates of your site for the sake of design.

Previous Post – Part 5 of 9

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