Thursday 5 April 2007

Online Design Funamentals

The question that has annoyed me for many years as a web designer is 'Why don't people think like a customer when they build websites'?

Design fundamentals have been around forever. Nature works on the principals of instinct and 'the desired outcome for the least work'. We need to start to think this way when we design online services. We need to think like a consumer when we sell, not the other way around.

Online shoppers are much more fickle when it comes to purchasing than their in-store counterparts. Generally we walk to the back of the supermarket to buy our bread and milk, simply because the store owners know we will walk past hundreds of other products on the way there. Online shops do not, and can not expect to operate the same way.

I've put together a list of 8 fundamental design rules that all websites (shops or otherwise) should adhere to.

1) Make it FAST. This covers not only the time it takes for the pages and images of the website to load, but the whole process of using the site should be extremely fast - especially for the shopper who knows what they want. The majority of online shoppers will continue to shop at the same place as long as they feel that they are getting what they need, and can get it without a fuss.

2) Keep it simple. Don't try to be all things to all people. Pick your market, and do it well. This doesn't necessarily mean that you only sell 1 product, but it means that if you're starting to compromise usability and speed for diversity - you will usually lose.

3) Navigation should be simple and clear. Theres nothing worse than a website that is hard to find what you're looking for, especially if you know it's there. Fancy fonts and buttons have their place, but it's NOT in the navigational part of the site.

4) Don't give people too many options. Find the 3 or 4 main things that people want to do on your site, and build your site around those things. Move everything else out of the way. Just think - if a visitor came to my site and i only wanted him to look at 2 things, what would they be? Generally the answer to that question should be the overall target of our website.

5) Invest in the design. Knowing 'how to use Photoshop®' is not enough to give someone the ability to design a website. Generally, I find graphic designers are some of the worst web designers because they think in terms of design and aesthetics, not functionality. A good web designer understands how customers think and how elements need to join together. A good design will win you a large chunk of the market initially, so spend that bit extra to give your site the edge over your competition.

6) Don't take a 'set and let' approach. Having a lot of content on your site can be great, but if you never update it, never change it, never show any sign of moving forward, then your customers will notice. Don't add a 'newest products' section if you're only going to add a new product every 6 months, and don't add a 'latest news' section if you don't intend to keep on top of keeping it current. Some people spend thousands of hours and dollars developing their site, then leave it to do its own thing. All of the effort dies once it starts breathing. I'd go as far as saying that businesses should be redesigning their whole site look every 2-3 years.

7) Don't expect to get rich overnight. Online users are cautious about new services that cost money. Trial periods are a great way for people to try-before-you-buy. Especially with websites that require a huge userbase. Theres no point charging $100 to be a member of a networking site with 3 other members - theres no pull, and no initial incentive. Get the in the door & show them how good it is first.

8) Make sure its a good idea. Too many online ideas are only half-baked. Generally as a designer and online advisor, I will try to persuade some people to develop an idea further before talking to me. I have told at least 4 clients that they should not go ahead with their project. 2 have listened to me and 2 have not. Of the 2 that did not, they have both lost substantial money in development costs and ongoing fees that have not been recovered.

These pointers can be - and generally should be overwhelming to the average business owner. This is why a team such as Digerati Solutions, a team that doesn't just 'do websites', will be your best friend. The team of professionals at Digerati can help to guide you through the complex world of online business, as well as show you some groundbreaking ways of doing your business more efficiently and to a wider market.

Don't waste your investment. Use the internet to make your business better, faster and more efficient. Every day you delay - your competitors could be stealing your clients one at a time.