Bizarrely, I’ve had two clients say to me recently that they want animated moving clouds in the background of the website that I’m about to build for them. My immediate reaction was: what for? And, this got me thinking about one of the reasons I moved from graphic design to web design. Before I started this job I was generally irritated on a regular basis about how bad a lot of websites were and that there was really no reason why they should be apart from a monumental lack of thought going into the design of the sites and a complete disregard for the end user. Surely designing something that is easy to use (even a pleasure to use) couldn’t be that hard. But, even massive sites can be awful (for example PayPal’s lumbering clunky behemoth where it appears that no one who developed it gave a monkeys about the end user and eBay where it’s impossible to find anything in the impenetrable murky depths of ‘your account’) and it’s easy for things to get messy and confusing if a site evolves and things are added to it over a period of time.
Planning a website properly is vital and there are many things to consider. The primary consideration is your user. Of course, it’s important that your site looks impressive but it’s the user’s experience that will determine how long they stay on your website and, ultimately, if they make that all important enquiry to your business.
Visitors to your site will make a split second decision, either consciously or subconsciously, based on the appearance of your site. Thereafter, you have roughly five seconds to convince them to stay and delve further (scientists have done tests!!). The internet has made us all fantastically lazy as regards finding information. If we can’t find what we’re looking for quickly enough we leave the website and visit another. Think about your own browsing habits and how quickly you become frustrated with not being able to immediately find what you’re looking for on a website and then try another one.
Content is also king. Nice clean homepages with succinct splashes work well. Home pages where you have to scroll… scroll… scroll… and scrooooolllllll again are, at best, ugly and at worst, completely ineffective because no one is going to read that amount of text. Therefore, your message hasn’t been received. If you can say it in 100 words and an image, don’t use 1000; effectively convey enough to give users what they want, whet their appetites and leave them wanting to find out more. That’s when they’ll drill down into your site.
Site structure is also an important consideration. Why have twenty pages of services with one paragraph on each when you could trim it down to five, group your services into descriptive umbrellas, streamline your content, use splashes, images, calls to action and bullet lists? Don’t make your users work too hard – they won’t like you for it or your business. Enormous megamenus may look pretty but really your trying to enable the user to find what they’re looking for. Is there a better way of doing it?
It’s definitely an art form getting these things to work in sync and work together to get the best out of your website. But a good way to think of it is that it’s not your website, it’s your users’. If you were the user, what kind of experience would you want? You know all about your products, services and your message but begin by assuming that the people who require your services know nothing. Make it simple for them, educate without being patronising and above all keep it jargon free and technically simple. If I filled my website up waxing lyrical about jQuery, APIs and the amazing advances in CSS and why you should be impressed with my apparent massive knowledge, I’d lose a lot of interest. Quite rightly. Crucially, don’t plan on including anything on the site that doesn’t serve a purpose in some way. It’s like a huge clump of curly-leaf parsley or some other form of unnecessary ancillary garnish with your meal in a restaurant – if you can’t eat it, why is it there?
So, it’s worthwhile planning your site properly from the grassroots to where you think it will be in a few year’s time. You wouldn’t spend a skipload of money on a car that probably won’t make it through the next MOT so why spend money on a website that won’t work this time next year either? A rubbish car and a website cost about the same. Your return on investment is key and this return will come from the people who use your site, have a decent time when they’re visiting and then pay you money for your services.
So, going back to the CSS3 animated moving clouds business. Are they needed? Are they just unnecessary ancillary garnish? Something on the plate that can’t be eaten? No, they do serve a purpose. There’s a good chance that they’ll make a web visitor smile, say “Oooh, they’re cute,” and get them past the five second hurdle. Surely that’s worth it – and, actually, they are pretty cute.