It’s the raison d’être for any designer to make things look pretty—and web designers are no different. I started my design career as a web designer almost ten years ago—a long time in Internet years. Before I went freelance I had a number of jobs that exposed me to all the facets of producing websites: design, development, Internet marketing, SEO, copyrighting, etc. When I got my first job in web design, ‘design’ was all I thought about. Yet now looking back, I’ve realised there a few things every designer should consider when building a website—things I certainly never considered back then. I wouldn’t say these things are more important than the design; rather that the design should be used to compliment and support these things.
People need to be able to use your site. A site with good usability is one that doesn’t break conventions (e.g. don’t try using anything other than ‘Home’ for a link back to your home page). Sites should be easy to navigate to first–time users. Back in the early 2000s, I—and a lot of other people—first discovered Flash. Flash–only websites were a lot more popular than they are now. Such sites are a prime example of style over content. Most of them were just too frustrating to use.
Accessibility means making sure everyone can access your web content; this usually refers to people with physical or mental disabilities. For example, one user may have to operate the computer with a head stick and another much be partially–sighted and access the site through a screen reader. So your design should be laid out clearly, information should be rendered in a sensible order and most of all avoid using Flash for large parts of your website. If you can program and know some HTML make full use of access keys and provide alternative colour schemes and text sizes via cookie–based stylesheet selection. And make a point of testing your sites through a ‘text–only’ browser, such as Lynx.
Calls to action are elements on the website that make people take action. This would usually be someone picking up the phone, sending an email, filling out a contact form or buying something from your online shop. Calls to action are the lifeblood of any successful website and should not be ignored. You almost certainly can’t have too many calls to action—but you can easily have too few. Make sure the phone number is big and bold and placed a number of times around every page; make sure it’s obvious to users how to place items in the shopping basket. I’ve seen conversion rates increase on lead generation websites by several hundred percent just by adding extra calls to action on the body text on every page.
A conversion is when someone takes the desired action on your website. More conversion means a better return on your investment (ROI), that is, you make more money. This is arguably the most important point; the other points before this are really ways to make sure you get as many conversions as possible on your website. So as a rule–of–thumb, if you are deciding whether to add something or take it away from your website, ask yourself, will this increase conversions? If the answer is no, get rid of it, no matter how pretty it looks. Your raison d’être may be to make things look pretty…but we all need to make a living too!