A quality web-browsing experience, or any software experience for that matter, is exactly that — an experience. It is not only quality content, good databases, fast servers, useful services, linking people up together or up-to-date information; one or many of the above are what give your website purpose and are absolutely necessary. But to truly engage and inspire your users you need to give them more than just that – you need to give them a complete internet experience.
This experience is based on a subject called Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) The goal of HCI is to produce a website or piece of software that a user can interact with easily and without a moments confusion. No matter what your website offers, sound HCI techniques can provide a solid and even entertaining user experience. HCI on websites applies mainly to their User Interfaces: the structure and the visual feel of a website, i.e. its navigation and design.
And before I continue there is something I want to say to every business owner in the world who owns a website – respect the importance of design – because you can’t afford not to.
Web designers tread a fine line — somewhere between artist and computer programmer — paying attention to incredible detail in visual styles as well as functionality and usability. More times than I can remember I have seen businessmen lowball professional designers. These businessmen may not be noticing the difference in quality, but I can assure you their users and prospective customers always will. Design affects your business in more ways than you might suspect:
• Users: Visitors, Hits, Prospective Clients — it doesn’t matter what you call them — first and foremost people who come to your site are users. They are on your website to accomplish something. If they had entered store and spoken with a store clerk they would have had their questions answered, and perhaps even been encouraged to buy something simply based on the quality of service. Now customers are given a URL and expected to do the work on their own. Your website should make your users feel comfortable, relaxed, even excited. As a businessman approaching a web development project, your visual design should have a particular motivation. Be inspired.
• Branding: With advertising bombarding us wherever we look, corporate image and branding are more important than ever. The best way to make your advertising budget go as far as possible is to make sure that people can relate to your product in as many different ways possible, even if your website is your product. Do design elements throughout the page (buttons, navigation menus, etc) represent the same stylistic characteristics of your logo, your packaging? Your website image is one of the most important pieces of marketing available to you – be informative, but also brand your website with the same care you would put into your corporate image on billboards, or design your office. Be You.
• Cutting Edge: Everyone knows that branding can make you feel hip and cutting edge – or old and boring. For the marketing of your brand – websites offer incredible depth, with potential to be both informative while at the same time engaging the user in what can potentially be an entertaining experience. I have seen some amazing websites that are designed to be literally interactive commercials (particular note to nike.com – one of the god’s of branding). Web design is like fashion — trends change with time and sites that were hip and fresh last year are on their way out as new designs come in. Good designers know to constantly research the most up and coming trends in design. Do a little research — two great websites that feature some of the most innovative design styles on the web today are: 73dpi.net and theFWA.com. When hiring a designer the only thing worth looking at is their portfolio. Be fashionable.
There you have it: three major reasons that focusing on your site’s design is good for your business. My best advice to a business owner investing in a website or hiring a web designer is to be very involved in the process. Make sure you’re getting web designs that will give your users a quality experience, improve your image, and help your brand become one of the fashionable leaders of the technology industry. Next month I’ll be talking about how website Navigation can affect the entire way you approach a website project.
This article was originally published in the December 07 issue of ICT Business Magazine