Why good looks are not everything in web design

When commissioning a new website, many businesses focus most of their attention on the visual design aspect – the ‘look n feel’, but this can be a costly mistake.

Everyone, it seems, wants a website that’s unique, that stands out, that grabs the attention.

Often the visual design gets a hugely disproportionate amount of attention focused on it, as if this is the be all and end all of web design.

Many times we have been asked to produce two or three competing design concepts for the prospective client to choose from. While this is great for choosing a logo, it’s a non-starter for a web design.

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Design isn’t just for desktop PCs

It’s a common trap to fall into, yet in the case of companies buying websites, this focus on the visual is understandable.

We’re all visual people and we all have an opinion. It’s easy to look at a couple of competing designs and express a preference, but that’s a subjective judgement based on one opinion. Others’ opinions will be different.

Buying a website is not easy

Procuring websites is hard for businesses – technology moves fast and can be intimidating. The web design industry as a whole does not have a great reputation and it’s hard to know who to trust.

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It’s not always obvious who you can trust

Those commissioning websites also know that how their new website will be judged – from the top of the company down to the bottom – will depend on how it looks, at first at least.

So focusing on the visual design keeps everyone in their comfort zone where they can ignore more crucial questions such as whether it will serve its customers properly, how it works on mobile devices and how quickly it loads.

Things like the security and future longevity of the software offered often take a back seat in favour of the visual design. But they are far more important.

And the design itself will vary according to the device it is viewed on, making mockups meaningless.

Web designers encourage this (some of them)

Some creative agencies are also to blame for the multiple competing designs approach in making businesses believe that visual design is pretty much all there is to websites.

This creates an expectation among businesses that this is the way to build a website: Create a beautiful, ‘unique’ design and then move all the old content in wholesale.

But it’s actually very wasteful. A website should be prioritised according to the needs of its users and space on each page is important.

People are used to using websites and don’t want unique. These days, nothing on the web is unique, and your business website needs to be familiar to people the first time they see it.

A unique website would be impossible to use and people wouldn’t hang around working out how to.

You don’t need unique, you need conventional.

And for your website to be effective, it needs to be unobtrustive and efficient.

Conventional = boring? Wrong

Our lives are governed by conventions – for example in the way road signs work or the accelerator pedal in a car is always on the right. The same is true for websites.

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Thanks to web design conventions, you don’t need to speak the language to understand how to use this website

Web design conventions allow visitors to dive straight into your site, despite never having seen it before.

They can recognise your logo, your main menu, whether a button is clickable and where to go for more information or buy something from you. They expect everything to be consistent from page to page.

This allows them to make their way around your site almost without thinking about it.

Good design supports function and accommodates how people behave. A beautiful website is about more than just looks.

Business websites should use design conventions, not original or ‘unique’ designs that are challenging to use and often slow to load.

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This site’s unconventional design makes it harder to use

Web design fashions like parallax scrolling and flat design rarely add anything to the user experience but designers love them.

And designers, too are as guilty as anyone in not following conventions.

“Faced with the prospect of following a design convention, there’s a great temptation for designers to try re-inventing the wheel instead, largely because they feel (not incorrectly) that they’ve been hired to do something new and different,” says Steve Krug in his book Don’t Make Me Think.

“Not to mention the fact that praise from peers, awards and high-profile job offers are rarely based on criteria like “best use of conventions”.

“Occasionally, time spent re-inventing the wheel results in a revolutionary new rolling device. But usually it just amounts to time spent re-inventing the wheel.”

Photo credits

Photo by mRio

Photo by agjimenez

Photo by agjimenez

Photo by chiste

Photo by chiste

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