I love to talk about web design. I have just enough technical knowledge to appreciate the ghastly difficulty of getting a web design “right”. And just enough credulity (or is it starry-eyed ignorance?) to still get a huge charge out of the sites that work…and to beet up with frustration over the ones that don’t.
I’ll never learn to be cool when it comes to web design.
As a copywriter and Internet researcher I have the pleasure of cruising and using many web sites every working day. I mean, first I have to Google, Ask, beg, burrow and borrow to find relevant sites. Then I book ’em and sort them and put them in my lineup. And then I knock ’em over, one by one. And, because in my business time is money, I move fast.
Each new site is like a walnut waiting for me to crack it open and dig out the meat. I can honestly admit that I open every single site every day with joyful anticipation.
Of course most of the time I’m sorely disappointed. Not with the information, mind you; I always get the ‘meat’ eventually; but with the web site design.
What is a good web design?
A good web design is one that delivers the message without being noticed.
The trouble with most web designs is that they are too egotistical. “Look at me, look at me!” they shout, forgetting that at least 99% of the time their job is supposed to be murmuring in a hushed tone, “Take this.” “Look at this.” “Here’s some more.” What else can I get you?” Like a good waiter in a top drawer restaurant. When you leave him a generous tip at the end of a perfectly served meal it’s because he performed his job invisibly…not because he wore a red bowtie, coughed in your soup, made loud mouth noises or threw the dishes around.
Vincent Flanders (that author/web designer fellow that coined the phrase, “mystery meat navigation”) has a great analogy; he says don’t confuse web design with good sex (or something like that). Anyway, good sex requires foreplay. Good web site design doesn’t. When you go into a site you want the payoff up front, the answer before you ask the question, the punch line without the whole shaggy dog story.
That’s life today on the Internet. You want what you want when you want it!
The good, the ugly, and the bad…
Now, I don’t mean to imply that web design shouldn’t be beautiful, or colorful, or have plenty of the bells, buttons and whistles that are so dear to every web designer’s heart. I also love a fully packed site.
I’ll give you an example. This one’s pretty esoteric; you may have to love fishing to really appreciate it. I came across it while I was researching for a piece on game fishing: www.kuuloakai.com
If I didn’t lose you altogether to that site (and you’re now on your way to Hawaii), I’ll be surprised.
Anyway, my point is, everything on that site works quickly and efficiently and offers up tons of fishing information, both practical (where and how to book, what to bring, how much, etc.) as well as frivolous (like the fun fish encyclopedia). If something flashes, it’s because it takes you where the fish are. It’s attractive. It’s easy. It’s fast and it’s accessible.
Even when a web site is not overtly selling a product or a service it’s still selling something. If you don’t leave the site with that ‘something’ then it wasn’t a good web design. Even if that ‘something’ was finding out that the product or service was not what you were looking for, the web design was a success because it delivered up the goods for your inspection quickly and easily.
Another really attractive, informative, and easy to navigate website is http://www.paintyourlife.com , a photo to art gallery site. Their quality images and graphics, a well laid out home page, and easy and clear content effectively describe their product line and guide the reader smoothly through the ordering process. If you like this, read Canadian web hosting reviews.
Now I suppose I’m going to have to show you an example of a site that managed to get everything wrong: awful content, terrible graphics, barely readable fonts…and I don’t even want to mention the flash and the colors: http://www.fabricland.co.uk/ (Although it is hard not to mention all those flapping flags and pointing fingers.) My heart goes out to Fabricland though, as obviously somebody put in a lot of time and effort.
Then there’s the frustrating and the sad…
The most frustrating web site is the one that’s packed with the information you need urgently, but the font is microscopic against a dark background, you need to open lots of hidden doors to see what turn out to be obvious headings, there are a bunch of distracting flashing images that don’t contribute any information, and – the worst crime of all – it’s slow.
The saddest web sites are the ones that are fast, work great, have clean fonts, good background, fast buttons, efficient layout…but the ‘something’ the site is selling is not worthy of the design. It’s enough to make the poor web designer cry.
Of course there are lots of amazing websites; you recognize one as soon as you enter.
But the best sites of all are the sites that are both pretty and easy.
Pretty. Easy. Got it?