Poor Web Design

Drew Rattray : Design vs. Functionality
Drew Rattray
| News and views on design vs. functionality balance across the communications and technology space.

Poor Web Design

What is poor web design?  How can you tell it's not good?  Why does it matter?  How do I fix it?  These are a few of the questions I'm asked on a weekly basis by clients and sponsors.  Here's my take on things.

Well for one, if it's poor design, it's not design at all.  An actual "design" has a plan and a goal behind it, and if those are not represented in the final product... you failed and didn't really design anything.  You manufactured a waste of everyone's time and money.   Well, that's not entirely true.  There's plenty of poorly designed websites that work out there, but they definitely do not work to their potential and in the end drive users somewhere else.  I really debated citing a few examples of what I mean, but it's probably best that I don't.   I don't want to hurt the feeling of any past or potential future clients.

The internet is the best media source at our disposal for marketing right now and it's all because the internet has given consumers the ability to find whatever they want, whenever they want, from whomever they want.   In turn, it also gives advertisers the ability to push their products to a more targeted audience. The other sources of media that aren't able to follow suit are suffering.  Print - dying.  Direct mailers - dead.  Radio - a joke.  Even television has changed.  Television production companies have to compete with streaming Online Videos, Tivo's, DVRs, and the shortening attention span of consumers who can find what they want at the touch of a button.  Commercials are increasingly directed at advertising more television shows, and less products.  The product advertising is more focused inside the shows as product placement.

I'm off subject, sorry.

There's 4 essentials to keeping your site from being a failure.

1) Brand Yourself
Everyone has a brand.  Your colors may be offensive, your logo may be terrible, but you can still make it all work without redesigning them.  Even if you only have 1 color, there is a series of other colors and hues that complement it.  Pick 2 - 4 colors, and make those your branding colors.  These are what you use whenever you are creating something that applies directly to your brand.  Unless your logo incorporates a rainbow, don't waiver.  It's not necessarily always a bad thing, but if you use every color, it becomes very hard to use it as a branding tool.

Even if your logo isn't present, you can use the colors to remind them. Like...  "Black and Yellow".  What came to mind?  I'm a dork, so I thought Batman, but for arguments sake and due to the industry I work in, let's say you thought Sprint.  But that's what you want, instant recognition.

Regarding the logo, don't be afraid to use it or parts of it everywhere.  If the logo is simple and clean, stamp everything with it.  If it's complex and nasty looking, use a piece of it.  Even if it's just a word, pull a defining letter or character out of it, and use that as a shape or accent around the site.  Fade it back.  Use an outline.  Make it a bullet.  There's a million ways to do it.  But never give up on your logo.  Even if you don't like it, use it and find ways to make it work.

2) Make Your Objectives Clear
The following sentence is poor marketing on my part, but it's necessary.  Click off this page and go to any other site for 5 seconds, then come back.  5...4...3...2...1.  Thanks for coming back, I appreciate it and so do my bosses.  What did that site want you to do?  What was their main offering?  You don't know?  Epic fail.

Every site has an objective.  Sign up for this, watch that, download this, click here, fill out this form, learn more, BUY SOMETHING, etc.   If the user doesn't get hit with that message within 5 seconds, there's a 99% chance that the site impression was worthless.  Sure they may stick around and read something, but generally if the objective didn't catch their eye off the bat, it's not going to entice a click later (unless you have some seriously persuasive editorial skills).

3) Deliver on Your Promises
This one's simple.  Someone clicked on your objective because it said, "SIGN UP FOR FREE STUFF".  So they voluntarily sign up for all your free stuff.  Weeks later, the only free stuff they received was spam e-mail...   Bad dog.  You duped them.  This basically means that consumer, if they have a grade school education, will never sign up for anything you have to offer again.

Now if you give them free stuff AND spam, I'm all for that.  That's beneficial for you and them.  Just make sure the free stuff gets there.

Oh, and one other suggestion, don't force people into signing up if you can avoid it.  No one likes being forced into anything, especially the American consumer.  Let your impressive marketing skills entice them.  Make them want it.  If you've got skills and they still don't want it, they probably aren't your target audience.

4) Be Organized
There's two types of consumers.  One is looking for something, and the other one is just passing through.  If your objectives are clear as in point #2, that markets to the people that weren't looking but are now interested.  The rest of your site needs to be designed and laid out to market to the other consumer.  The one doing research and comparing products.  The one looking to find out where their money would be best spent.  If they can't find your information fast and easy, you lose.  Off to another site they go.

Your navigation has to make sense.  It has to be simple and tiered.  Another good practice is to make it so that there is only one way to get to each item in the navigation (minus a footer area, which has become a TOC for a lot of sites).  Don't have 9 links all over the page in different areas, all with different names, but going to the same place.  It's confusing and frustrating.  People are unsure if the link is really going to bring them where they want to go, and if after they click they are still unsure, they'll want to click everything else that also might be the right link.  They end up spending more time looking instead of seeing.

That's my take on web design.  It doesn't have to be pretty to work, but it needs to make sense and it needs to represent EXACTLY what you want the consumer to see and do.   It's not a perfect science, and there's a lot of potential to get carried away with a web site.  Determine what your main goals are, make a plan, and stick to it.  Good luck.
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