‘Art’ is not new, ‘Design’ is not new, but Website Design is, mainly because the Web itself is relatively new. While theoretically in existence as early as the 1940s, it was established in reality in 1990. At that time, design had very little to do with Web pages, information was king, and the Web was all about pure text communication.
Fast forward to now, and EVERYONE has a Web site, or some form of Web presence, even if it just consists of a Facebook account. The Web is no longer constrained to text; it’s filled with images, animation, sound, and ideas. It’s the ‘ideas’ part that start to make the Design part a challenge.
Everyone has ideas about what makes a Website look ‘good,’ and just like recent popular ‘reality’ shows where EVERYONE has a vote, these ideas can lead to big messy bunches of visual confusion. We’ve all seen examples of the dreaded pattern-background, the <blink> tag, neon text on black background, and the injudicious use of animated .gifs and Comic Sans.
If you’re thinking of seriously building a professional, or at least a decent, Web presence, there are a few things you can do to visually ensure that your future clients, friends, or random acquaintances will appreciate your efforts. (As opposed to smiling politely at your new Website and making snarky comments about it later.)
- First, sit down and identify what your Website will be about. What are your goals? Attracting new clients and retaining existing ones? Sharing information? Make a goal and STICK TO IT. Keep in mind that the Web was created to share information, first and foremost; the ‘pretty’ comes next.
- Next, draft out the information you want to share, and keep it on topic. You may have an amazing array of absolutely insightful thoughts about a plethora of subjects, but save the Rhubarb pie recipes for Facebook (unless your Website is about Rhubarb pie, then, have at it!) This information will help your Designer architect your site to convey your information to the public most effectively. (You ARE going to hire a professional Designer, right?)
- Then, hire a professional Designer. Not your teenage nephew that’s ‘totally awesome at computer stuff and can get to level 42 in Killer Zombie Apocalypse Car Theft Death Rattle’ or your friend from the baseball team who’s ‘not technically a Designer, but knows what looks good.’ Hire a Designer or a Marketing firm who has a team of Designers.
- After you’ve conveyed your ideas, goals, and preferences concerning color, go get a cup of coffee. Read the newspaper. Go to work. Trust the Designer. If you’ve done your research and hired a Designer or firm that’s been in business for a few years, this isn’t their first Rodeo. Generally, they’ll have a pretty good idea about what makes for a good User Interface, what colors work well together, what photos will enhance your message: basically, what makes a good (or great!) Website.
- Now comes the fun part. You have a Mockup, and you can work with the Designer (or Account Manager/ Project Manager) on the small tweaks you’d like to see done, and VOILA! You have a Website!
Totally easy, right? Here’s the part that you may have noticed isn’t a part of this workflow paradigm: getting input from your nephew, your friend, your mechanic, your spouse, your dog, your cat, and your goldfish about the Mockup. This is YOUR website, with YOUR ideas. You don’t wear your nephews’ clothes, do you? This is what will happen: Your friend will think it’s awful because it’s not the colors of [insert sports team here], your nephew thinks it sucks because there’s no animation or loud explosions, your spouse thinks it should be ‘that nice beige they have on the back wall of Starbucks,’ your mechanic wants his $500, your dog wants it to be scented like Jerky Treats, your cat doesn’t care, and the goldfish wants more Comic Sans.
It just got complicated. Go back to Step 4 and concentrate on ‘Trust the Designer.’ Here’s a secret: you’re not blindly trusting just this one individual, the Designer has a Project Manager, other Designers, and co-workers who are all giving them input on your ideas. Your new Website has already been tested and critiqued by the time it reaches you by a team of people who do this stuff for hours every day.
Now you can move on to Step 6—enjoy the heck out of your new Website! Bask in the collective gasp of amazement you hear when people go to your Website and utter “Oh my! This Website is beautiful! And so FUNCTIONAL too!”