Designer’s website design

Can we talk? Specifically, can we talk about your website? I’m not saying my site’s perfect but some of you really need to rethink your netmage (net-image). If you’re a manufacturer or designer entrepreneur, your site should only advertise your stuff. I realize you’re small but don’t put google adsense ads on your site. Or anyone else’s pay per click advertising. The idea that a web site “should pay for itself” is a myth that needed to die a long time ago. The web is the easiest, least expensive way to create an image and that stuff just gunks it up and makes you look small-time. I mean, people may think you’re not very professional if you’re having to worry about covering $10 a month using ad revenue, just to have your site hosted. What if we insisted that everything paid for itself? What if we made our house pets pay for themselves? I can see it now. I’ll end up having Google’s logo shaved onto the sides of my cat’s bodies -cause they sure don’t catch enough mice to justify keeping them in kibble.

Watch the software. Flash sites seem to be really popular these days and it’s gotten to where I dread visiting them (some I’m obligated to poke around). They draw a lot of bandwidth. Sales reps are often connecting and trust me, their time and bandwidth is limited. Same with retailers. Make it easier for people who don’t have a lot of time to visit. Another problem with flash sites is that navigation is enigmatic. In the interests of “artistic integrity” many people use artsy-fartsy icons that many people don’t know the meaning of. Please don’t do this. Navigating your site should be effortlessly intuitive and not an IQ test in perseverance, iteration strategy and cunning. Half the people out there have below average intelligence. Assume we’re stupid. Better yet, I recommend reading Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It’s all about lean web design. The book is also great if you think about things such as instructional design. I have to think about that a lot.

From the time your site loads, the product -complete with price, preferably with an order form- should never be more than 3 clicks deep. Two clicks would be better. On this site, you can find anything you’re looking for in two clicks or less (a search box is required on every site, upper right hand corner if you please). If you make people endure a fourth or fifth click, you’ll lose many of them. If it takes too long to find your stuff and its price, people split. It doesn’t matter how compelling your company, stance, product or position is, they’ll go elsewhere. It doesn’t matter how “cool” your site is. If people can’t find their way around, they’ll leave. Your site should not be a tourist attraction for other 20 somethings who are into web design. Most of that kind of traffic isn’t looking to buy your products anyway. How many of them have the money?

Make sure your site is clean and readable. Watch those backgrounds. Many patterned backgrounds create readability problems. Personally, I’d skip it, it amounts to more bandwidth. Watch your colors. Sure, pink font is cute but it poses a reading problem unless it’s bolded and in a larger font (I just hate the pink font on one of my favorite sites). Some colors hurt people’s eyes (hot pink, bright yellow and neon bright green). Speaking of fonts, watch your font size. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by (usually a flash site) with too small a font. Don’t make me take off my glasses, get out of my chair and plant my face 3″ from the monitor. It pisses me off. Some fonts were so small that I didn’t realize there were words there! If you’re a young designer, you probably don’t think of this because you don’t need bifocals. Just try to keep in mind there’s a lot of old farts (like me) who have money to spend (not like me).

[This post has been amended]
In comments, Christy brought up the issue of music. I forgot to mention it because I find music piped in from sites to be so annoying that I’ve turned my speakers off -permanently. So, I’ve forgotten people have that annoying music when I land on their site. Also, your choice in music can really tell more about someone than I think anybody has a right to know. As far as music goes, please, just skip it. I’ve seen cute clothes I liked on sites but got turned off with the tunes; they weren’t my generation so it wasn’t “my space”. If I don’t feel like I belong there, I’m not going to buy from you. In a nutshell, your music selection can actually alienate visitors. Better to keep your tunes to yourself and not on your website.

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