January 18th 2017

Web Design – Fashion or User Experience?

I have been doing web design for over 18 years now, mainly as a hobby and now as part of my job. I don’t go to University and I certainly didn’t study web design. In fact I couldn’t work a computer other than playing games until late 90’s. I studied product design at college and learnt about ergonomics and designing products to fit the people buying them, how they would present the packaging etc.

This was all very basic level but it forms pretty much why I am writing this blog. Often the best blogs come off the back of when you’re relaxed and strange things flash through your head. Anyhow I thought about what I learnt at college and I thought most, if not all the principles of the course are very relevant to website design. Particularly more than others.

Websites have evolved massively since I started playing with them going from static boring pages to whizzy flash sites which had videos/animations etc. and look very cool.  Technology evolved, the smart phone came along and then so did broadband and Google.

Google is like Marmite

Google has really shaped how websites are, some including my business partner will argue with this. If anything, Google has basically collated so much data it knows pretty much what the consumer and users wants. Basic in the day, a Flash site used to do very well in Google and so did your website with line after line of text which made no sense, images flying around all over the place and then adverts spluttered all over the site. The design of a site literally did fly out the window.

Google then came up with all kinds of rules and regulations to hit websites, which was flash and other dark arts methods to full the search results. Google has basically got fed up with people trying to trick users. The rules it came up with are very simple, and so a whole industry separate to web design was created. However, the design actually is more important than possibly the content or lack of content. Google has forced a standard and also a train of thought. The USER comes first!

Now Graphic Designers will hate this with their heavily graphic laid website with video and lots of bold titles. Visually the sites look really cool and very nice. This can effect the user experience and also your ranking in Google. An SEO company also love the new standard as they would be looking to fill the site with call to actions, lots of content, links off to places and no graphics. This site would possibly perform very well but again the USER has not been thought about.

This is why I say Google is like marmite, you either hate Google for stopping you being very creative or you love Google like I do; they’ve made design and the reasoning behind the design easier to explain and also allows us to create websites which both look great and perform well in Google.

Fashion or User Experience

If you think about it the web is still very new, there are new ways to code websites and new ways to serve up content. When a client contacts a web designer often they will say we like the look of X.Y.Zs website and could we have something like this. Great, the web designer will go off be super creative and come up something similar. Big graphics which will be in a slider (bigger banners at the top). Bold text and then lots of images.  The designer is possibly a graphic designer by trade and will no nothing about how to build this site. They then will get a pre built template which will allow them to get somewhere close to the design.

The CLIENT loves the design and is pleased as punch. Two months or sooner down the line the CLIENT comes back and say’s the site is amazing still, but we’ve had no enquiries and when I search for keywords the site doesn’t appear.

When you visit the site there are 4 pages of content, a couple of paragraphs on the page and then some really cool images. The web designer will say “oh you need some SEO doing”. I know this X company. The company will then come along and say ‘oh you have no Call to Actions and no blog …also this is missing and that’s missing’. The CLIENT then gets upset with the web designer. The designer has only followed what the CLIENT has said but also exercised their expertise in design. Typically, this would be a site for below £1500. To get the site to work with the SEO would then double the costs of the site.

Can issues be avoided?

SO if the CLIENT thought about the USER first, would he have had these issues? Yes and no. Often a client will not fully understand this to start with until you bring them back to how they trade off line. If they built their website like they shop or how they trade off line, then possibly there could be a better connection to the USER. The USER will want possibly a few out comes.

  1. Find information quick
  2. Buy something quick
  3. Enquire about something quick

What the user doesn’t want

  1. Take an age for the website to load
  2. Go through hoops to get to the information/product they want
  3. Get bombarded by offers and pop ups to sign up.

A classic example of how a Fashion site performs against a site built for the USER.  We recently took over a website that wasn’t performing zero, had very little enquiries and didn’t feature in the search engines. The site was very visually striking it had nice big images, very simple navigation. The downside is that it took ages to work. The information was too complex and low quality.

We sat the client down and ask them what they wanted the site to do and who where they wanted to target. Within 30 minutes we had a very clear brief. We knew that the type of client searching for the site would mostly be doing this from mobile devices and we also found they where very strong on Facebook which reinforced it. The site was to serve useful information as well as to promote the special offers.

When we started the design process we worked out what was the best information to serve first and then thought ok why do they need a slider on the website? What is the purpose. If the site had supporting information to their services people are more likely to read it. So we redesigned the website to work quickly by reducing the code and also taking out the image sliders. We then tailored the content to hit the users. Also most instantly the site started to perform better than the previous design and instantly the clients where commenting on how easy it was to find information. The design was very simple but extremely effective.

The User is always Right?

My biggest tip for when you look to have your website designed and built is to make sure you have a solid brief. Don’t follow the fashion, set your own trend and your own shop front.

You will have better results and find it easier to adapt and change when your users behaviours change. Identify who you’re going to target and decide what you want to serve them in the way of information. This in itself is design but in a more intellectual way then trying to force a design which looks nice but serves no real useful information to the user.

You noticed I captialised the word client.  This is to show that the client is not the user of the website. The user is the people you’re targeting. I mentioned Google early as well. Regardless of what an SEO expert will say, Google is only interested in websites which think of the USER. If the USER comes back time and time again, or the users navigate logically through your site it will do naturally very well with Google. User based design is what Web Designers should now force. Things will look a little less glamorous, however what do you want! More Sales, better brand recognition, known to be an industry go to point, or a business which has a nice looking site but what does it do.

If you’re a website designer don’t be scared to challenge the client. If you’re the client don’t be afraid to challenge the designer if the design doesn’t work for the user. If they don’t get it, then find a designer who does.

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