Design That Works With Your Website Objectives

- February 12, 2008

I would like to state the purpose of this post at the beginning: to urge people to start thinking more objectively and less emotionally about designing a website.

Some readers may find this information a good review of business logic and others may welcome my post as something valuable to start thinking about.

I often hear people use the words, ‘I like’ when speaking about a website. One of my design instructors at Florida Atlantic University would stop us in the middle of our sentences if we said ‘I like.’ We would have sessions in which we had to defend our work or others’ work, and using ‘I like’ just wouldn’t cut it for my instructor. For a few weeks, I would struggle with this, asking myself, ‘what’s wrong with having an opinion?’ I was so annoyed, as were most of my classmates, but I thought that I must not be seeing something.

So, what was my instructor’s objective? The idea is that design decisions should be based on as much research and evidence as can be obtained. Designing around your own emotions and preconceived ideas can misdirect and harm your efforts and negatively affect ROI. I finally understood.

Here’s a common scenario:
Client: Our website’s banner should be blue.
Design team: Why should it be blue?

Client: I like blue.
Design team: Why do you like blue?

Client: Blue has a sense of calmness.
Design team: (Tries to convince client that they might need to spend more time in researching what would work best for the client’s website.)

Client: (Client downplays suggestions in hopes of launching the site as soon as possible.)
Design team: OK. We are suggesting a side navigation for all your internal pages.

Client: We were thinking to use a top navigation with light text on a dark background (reverse type).
Design team: OK. Why is that?

Client: We surfed a few sites previously and were amazed at how soothing reverse type can make a web site. (Client provides a few reference sites.)
Design team: Yes, those sites do have a soothing sense about them. We believe these sites’ content makes them more soothing, rather than the reverse type.

Client: OK, well we like how the site’s use of reverse type adds to its attractiveness.

The client knew what their goals were for their site and may have even brought in market research to help define these goals, but they didn’t know quite how to get there.

Here’s another example: A site’s goal is to be a resource for teachers wanting to teach basic color theory to children.

Because the site is about color, there’s color everywhere, but it’s used ineffectively. The site includes the use of colors that clash when overlapped. Being primarily an education site, the educator (parent or otherwise) would probably be the first demographic that should be targeted by the design. However, what could easily end up happening is that these educators only remain on the site for a short period of time and quickly return to their Google search results page. Their use of color didn’t work for the site’s objectives.

Moral: After knowing what your site objectives are, use scientific research to attain your objectives. The nerds have done the testing for you, and you can use their results to employ efficient methods to realize your goals. It’s worth the effort.

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