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What Exactly is Good Web Site Design?
by Lance T. Walker


A well-designed web site is a beautiful thing...practical as well as aesthetic.

It's not only about what you see, it's about what you think and feel as you navigate the site.

Well designed pages are easier to read, lead the reader's eyes where you want them to be, and make it worth their while once they arrive.

Why are so many web sites so difficult to use? Why is it that web designers are seemingly everywhere, but really good ones are so hard to find? Some of the answers to these questions lie in the complex relationship between web designers and web developers. Other answers can be found in the complex nature of the web page itself.

A good commercial web page is part billboard, part television commercial, and part instrument panel. Therefore, the successful construction and presentation of a site requires the creativity of the artist, the human relations skills of the sales professional, and the technical savvy of the engineer - plus the management skills to coordinate it all. Only rarely are these various skill sets found in one person. This is the main reason why successful sites are usually the work of a team effort; good web design is the "synergy and synthesis" of all four aspects working together.

In contrast, web surfers complain bitterly that many sites seem to have no rhyme, reason or order whatsoever to their construction. They seem, in fact, to be intentionally designed to confuse, frustrate, and intimidate the visitor. And we can be sure that once we have wasted the potential customer's most valuable asset - their time - they will be in no hurry to invest their loyalty, their trust, or their money with us.

Scott Berkun of Microsoft Corp., in his excellent article series The Human Factor, explains the problem this way:

"People like us who build things for a living are intimate with the technology and have a mental model for how it works. It's our job to know this stuff and we take pride in it. The problem comes when we design how the thing is operated...Internal representations become external. Concepts that are familiar to our development team are quietly assumed to be familiar to everyone. Most people who make things spend most of their time with other people who make things and not with the people who will use them."

In other words, for a site to be successful, each member of the team must be able to generate a marketing/usability perspective in addition to their own. Designers must design, not for rave reviews from other designers, but for warm receptions from the marketplace. Marketing must concentrate, not on offering every bell and whistle that the competition is using, but on making sure the customer finds each additional feature to be of real benefit. And programming must make sure that their ingenious user-interface solutions are invisible when possible, have clear instructions whenever needed, and work as advertised 100% of the time. In the end, it is far better to do a small thing extremely well than do many grand things poorly. It must always be remembered that the user is fickle, impatient, and in control; and once offended, is not quick to forgive.

What determines good web design?

Good web page design, and home page design in particular, should have a single-minded focus - to attract the viewer's attention and stimulate their interest. One should not have to possess a fine arts degree in order to appreciate the layout of a web page. This is one case where beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Selling is first and foremost a transfer of emotion, and creating a positive emotional response in the viewer's mind is the designer's one mandatory responsibility. Everything else is an optional extra.

A good web design supports, but does not overpower, the message. In short, any design that interferes with the marketing message is bad design, no matter how aesthetically pleasing or precisely formatted it may be. If people are talking about our design rather than our message, we have our cart before the horse, and our sales figures will reflect that fact.

The web is not print, and web designers must accept the reality that they simply do not have the level of control they have in the print medium. Basic formatting principles do apply, but to obsess over exact positioning, font choices, and perfect color selection over presenting content that makes the user hungry to find out more is to reveal a lack of understanding of the web. On the Internet, images may be cool, but content is king. Period.


-- SkyVault™ Web Design provides marketing consulting, web development, and Internet business services to small and medium sized businesses. They have been developing income-producing online properties since 1998. Contact the development team at: Free Report Reveals Secrets of Their Successful Marketing Strategy:


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