9 Ways to Sharpen Your Web Site

Design for Standard Screen Resolutions

Most users have their settings set to 600×800 pixels. If you design your site for screen resolutions wider than this you need to accommodate those who will not see the off-screen data. Remember that users get tired when surfing and will not click around a cramped design looking for content. They work with what is visible onscreen – if you place text off-screen you do so at your own peril.

Layout your text within the boundaries of the most common resolutions; user’s with high settings will not lose any data. If you do decide to place text off-screen, ensure that it is not critical data such as navigation menus.

Make it Appealing
During the pre-design stage it is recommended to gather benchmark sites that you can use as a reference. As you research your target audience, and do focus groups, begin to prepare prototypes that reflect their taste, age groups, business sectors and other relevant data. Be very careful of designing sites that flaunt convention – this often lead to ridicule by the public and press alike for their attempts to be innovative. Instead focus on giving the user what they want as effectively as possible, and make it attractive to view. Bells and Whistles seldom impress web users.

After you have prepared the first prototypes — which can be simple mockups in PowerPoint or PhotoShop — ask you test groups to evaluate them based on open-ended questions. Don’t ask ‘do you like this?’ as most will just say Yes or No. Instead ask what do you like about this design and explore what they would like modified or altered. During this phase the Information Architect needs to listen and record the feedback and not endeavor to influence the test users opinion.

Ask them questions along the following lines:

• What is the site’s purpose based on this design?
• What do you notice first?
• What is your first actions i.e. hit this link
• Where would you go next?
• What feelings does it evoke?
• What do the icons mean? Few users ever understand non-standard icons.
• What kind of company does this represent?
• Does it remind you of another website? Maybe your designers have copied another site design.

Feed all this data back to the decision-makers in the design process. Grade the results by level of importance and highlight comments that were repeatedly made. Use this information for the next prototypes and continually reference it when designing.

Stay within Corporate Guidelines and Standard
Large corporations and smaller ones of course, spend considerable monies on developing their brands. Most will have developed corporate guidelines that outline how their logo, and all associated material, should be used in media publications.

Designers need to comply with these standards and build sites that incorporate them, rather than ignore the guidelines and design without making any considerations. Young, over-enthusiastic designers are frequently guilty of abusing or ignoring corporate guidelines that they see as boring and restrictive.

Maintain Consistency
The site design, incorporating both the graphical deign, color schemes and content layout should be consistent across all sections of the site. Many large portals will use different color schemes for different sections, but will ensure that the colors are all aligned with the overall color palette.

This can be achieved by developing an internal set of guidelines for the designers to refer to. This will outline how font usage, color control, text layout, navigation, downloads, plug-ins and other reference points. If designers do not have reference guides to refer to, then they will each design based on their own personal tastes.

It is important to establish a consistent visual identity throughout the site as this gives the site structure and helps user understand where they are in relation to other parts of the site.

Edit and Re-Edit
All aspects of the site design should be designed to support the primary goals of your web business. Though its fine to include attractive design components to enhance the visual appeal of the site, be careful that they do not detract from the goals that you have laid down.

Use graphics to enhance the user’s experience, not to distract them from the main site objectives. Excessive graphics will reduce the speed of pages downloading. Bearing in mind how hard it is for users to find your site in the first place, you do not want them to leave because of bloated graphics that deny them access to your valuable content. Users can’t buy what they cannot see.

Edit and re-edit your text until you have removed all that is superfluous and unnecessary. Users do not read ‘marketese’ – don’t insult them by writing in this vein. Write in an active voice and adopt a tine that is most appropriate. The more you can pare back the original text i.e. text from a newspaper, the more users will appreciate it. Offer them links to the fill article if they wish to read the complete article. Web users are flooded with data – they appreciated Editors who remove the fluff and offer them the essential information.

Highlight New or Modified Content
Frequent users, your most valuable commodity, need to be directed every time they return to your site. New and modified content needs to be flagged so that these users can quickly determine where the fresh content is located. Frequently this is at the top of the page hierarchy, however on fast-turning news sites, stories are archived quickly. These stories need to be easily accessible, as many users will seek to trawl through these lists.

Make it easy for users to see when you have added content; date every story. User should be able to go to new information without wasting time reviewing areas they have already seen. Many sites offer a “What’s New?” section to address this.

Avoid Scrolling
Users resent having to work to find content on your site. They run out of patience quickly and, once burned, will rarely return to the site. Each page should be clearly labeled with the subject matter well displayed. All essential navigation menus, visual cues and other devices should be within the boundary of their settings.

Images and tables that flow over the boundary of the visible screen resolution will cause a horizontal scrolling bar to display. Most users will resent having to struggle with this scroll bar and interpret this as lazy design or arrogance on the part of the designer’s i.e. our site is so brilliant you need to scroll all over to read it. Most wont and will take their clicks elsewhere.

Use the Inverse L
Users learn how to navigate sites by spending time on other websites. Most large-scale portals use the inverted model to display the main navigation and title bar. Onscreen this looks like an L turned upside down and inverted.

If you decide to design an alternative scheme remember that it means users have to get climateised to your site and then work their way around. This approach rarely is successful. Instead of forcing users to re-learn how to navigate offer them a familiar navigation menu that they will feel comfortable with. Don’t alienate your users with innovations. Users don’t want innovations; it’s your content that they are after. The Inverse L will help them to find this quickly.

By sticking to this structure users will feel comfortable on your site and therefore be more inclined to spend more time browsing your offerings. Most websites are not friendly to users. By making your site easy to access users will frequently return, safe in the knowledge that they will have a pleasant online experience