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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  1. Lol B says:

    I totally agree!

    Thought I was the only person to get annoyed by this stuff.

    People need to get over the use of flash! It’s not big and its not clever !

    For the visitor its just time consuming and annoying.

    I don’t know whether I have attention deficit disorder or what, but I usually clear off if I have to navigate through more than 3 screens.

    I notice that retailers are very slow on the uptake of using blogs as a marketing tool. Those early to adopt blogs in this sector will gain an advantage over those still stuck in the time warp of fancy web sites that really only act as “brochure wear”.

    An interesting article on this topic is here.

    I know I digress slightly as your initial angle here was on the presentation of web sites and blogs!

    Lol B

  2. kathie sever says:

    i have to admit, i’m a total suker for crazy websites. i’ll spend way too much time on a site if the graphics are great. i love finding sites that are like little performance art pieces.
    that being said, as a person trying to sell a product using the internet as my main tool, i completly hear what you’re saying and will keep all that in mind as i restructure my site (i’m in the midst of that right now, as luck would have it!)
    it might be interesting to start a thread in the boards where you could post your site up for critique- ?

  3. christy fisher says:

    Most store owners/buyers I know are not exceptionally web-savvy. Some still have their kids helping them get online. Some still have dial-up. Blogs? Most don’t even know what the word means.
    You are so right about the flash.. and I have heard many buyers complain that they don’t want to sit through a movie before they get to the goods…also that the opening page should show some product..not just be a logo where you have to do some “enter” click…if they have taken the time to seek out your site, they shouldn’t have to “enter” anything..they should already BE there.
    ..also that MUSIC is soooooo annoying.. DO NOT put a music loop in your background. I despise this as well, as often I surf while listening to streaming audio and them some blaring “piece of a song” comes blasting through.. it makes me want to peel out of the site immediately.

  4. Jess says:

    “Some colors hurt people’s eyes (hot pink, bright yellow and neon bright green).” All my favorite colors! hehe. But I know what you mean, it really is a pain to read lots of text in funky colors, especially if it’s on a black background, that’s the worst.

    Flash, when it’s used correctly can be ok. I think it should be an optional part of a website and should never be forced onto visitors. If they have music they should have an off button programmed into it.

  5. christy fisher says:

    Even with an “off” button, the music comes on automatically when you land on the site.. This is extremely jolting if you have some other music coming through your speakers already..maybe those who insist on music backgrounds (which never play an entire song it’s just annoying)..should have an “on” button instead so the music isn’t “forced” on the visitor.
    ..and on Flash: if you do not have DSL, cable, or broadband (which many users do not), then Flash loads as slow as molasses..(and if you add music loop, then it takes upward of 2 minutes for one page to fully load)

  6. Josh says:

    I think a lot of newby web designers make these mistakes becuase they are turned on by the newness and coolness of certain things, for instance the music. I must admitt the first website I ever created had music, but it was personal and I wasn’t trying to sell anything. Even still I cringe when I think I once thought midis were cool. I’m like most of you, I RUN from websites that have those annoying midi files playing. I’m out of there faster than I can even second guess my decision. I can’t take you seriously with an obnoxious midi playing.

    You can take yourself TOO seriously. Boring and minimum is just as much a turn off as vibrant text that burns a hole in the back of your brain.

    I think the most important thing is grammar. If your mission statement has grammar mistakes, look out. If grammar isn’t your thing, hire someone to do it for you.

  7. Scarpediem says:

    Excellent points. Flash animation should be banned by now, except for perhaps artist’s sites or something. And one thing most of these sites seem to be using and which I find super-annoying is that twittery slideshow, where you’re supposed to hover over an image to click on it, but as soon as you move your mouse one micromilimeter, the slideshow jumps to the tenth image in a row or something. When you try to get back, the images slide with every little movement of the mouse, like they’re trying to evade you. Needless to say, it becomes really difficult to select the product you want. You know what I’m talking about! Why do they make it so difficult, I don’t understand.

    An exemplary customer-oriented site in this respect is Zappos, in my opinion. They’re not perfect, they have the best user-oriented interface of all the fashion sites I know.

  8. Having applied lean to complex web sites and studied usability, I have a few rules:

    Just because you can do it, it doesn’t mean you should – goes for flash, fancy dissolves, animated gifs,lots of color, bright colors, reversing a light color out of dark, overuse of large file-size images, fancy fonts, etc. (In powerpoint, it means don’t use a fancy dissolve or animation on your slides, particularly a different dissolve with every slide change.)

    Steve Krug’s advice, “Don’t make me think,” just about covers everything.

    Examine flow before you start.

    You can really understand flow with string – see my post showing how our team did it. Do this with your current-state web site and your planned revision.
    Make paper prototypes – mockups – and try them on people like your users.

  9. Liana says:

    I agree with the grammar and spelling point.

    I don’t care if you personally can spell or write correct English, but surely you could hire someone to help, or just to proofread. If you don’t care about that, why would I think you might care about other details? Like product details.

    Sorry, this is a pet peeve with me, and I begin to wonder if some people think it’s cute to misspell, etc. Also anytime they talk about something being “kewl” I cringe. What is that supposed to mean anyway?

  10. Julia says:

    LOL, Liana, I cringe at the use of the non-word ‘kewl’ also.

    Kathleen, you’re right on, as usual, with all your comments, especially those about colors and fonts. My eye specialist says there are no glasses that will iimprove my vision although the reading magnifiers are useful. I suppose I’m another of those ‘old farts’ who enjoys looking while not being able to purchase! heehee

    And don’t get me started on flash and the music! My speakers are disconnected and have been for a long time.

  11. Laura says:

    About the grammar, I had a “designer” hand me her promo material to read (I’m an editor). When I pointed out several mistakes, I was told that she wanted to give the impression that she was foreign (she’s foreign born, but so am I – and I was insulted and aghast).

  12. Henry says:

    Lets just say… all mouths must be fed. Even those with nothing to say.

    It’s early days on the enternet, I am wiling to let the people who want to feed off the ignorant do that. It’s pert of the process.

    What bothers me most is that they think they are creating something.

    To me there are those who create wealth and those who steal it.

  13. henry says:

    How about that for spelling… anybody for the NY times X word puzzle.

    Actually I have kept audio off my site because I figure you surf at work from your cubicle… is that correct? never been there so never got the spelling… cubic + …? Anything that ends in le sounds French to me. You can’t really deal with Georgia On My Mind when you click on the comments page… can you?

  14. pragya says:

    how would I get admission form from UR institute?
    Please suggest me the speacial enqueries about admission form including important dates, address, mode of payment etc.

  15. Great post Kathleen – simple advice, & I will invest in that book to improve on my new Website; it is amazing what simple, yet vital, things you can miss but once someone points them out you see how glaringly obvious they were!

    Of course, you can earn from your site by cramming it full of ads but what does that say about your brand? Is that the image you wish to portray? If you are a new brand just after a quick buck, & don’t much care about your brand & it’s longevity, then having your pages full of ads could earn some pennies…but profitable customer loyalty?? I don’t think so. If you are trying to sell your product, & want to stay around for a bit, then you have to make your Website easy for the customer to quickly realise what you are selling; there are thousands of other sites that can also give them what they are looking for. If your pages are crammed full of ads, this could detract from your product; will your visitor understand what your Site is about?

    This leads into making your visitor trust you; unless you are well-established you are not known, & you have to build trust. Customers who visit your Website looking to buy, want to know who you are & find answers quickly to their questions; a telephone, an address, shipping & returns policy, a Help, Contact, & About Us page…all this helps to create trust & basically works to answer their questions. (I actually did ‘hum-&-hah’ over whether to put an image of me on our new About Us page, but after advice I succumbed & it is now on there!?! What are others views?)

    The suggestion for a ‘Review My Site’ forum is a great idea.

    A great post – thanks!
    PS Some other feedback I had was AIDA – I had actually forgotten about this:
    · Awareness/Attention – make people aware you are there; great headline, promotion, pr, advertising, blogs, forums, SEO
    · Interest – create an interest so that they want to know more;
    · Desire – show them more, explain the benefits of your product features, how will it help the customer, make them want your product
    · Action – make them take action…BUY NOW!

  16. vee says:

    I just placed items on because I want to get experienced in web site designing. Your article assisted me because I will take down my flash.

  17. Maggie says:

    Because I don’t own a TV and watch everything on my computer, I do have the sound on. When I get to sites that start making stupid sounds/talking to me/playing music, I just leave the site. Immediately.

  18. Punctuation and grammar are, unfortunately, dying arts and are missed greatly. As I explain to my 10 year old daughter, there are rules for that so everybody understands what you are saying. This coming from someone that is wildly dyslexic. Music only makes sense on a website if that is what you are selling, I also hate the talking “ads” that aren’t really pop-ups so my blocker doesn’t catch them.

    As far as ads of any kind on a commercial website to cover the cost, there are lots of ways to get the cost of a website down. I run several websites that cost me @ $10 a YEAR. Needless to say, I can live with one less lunch out to cover that cost.

  19. vee says:

    Please forward the websites for $10 a year. I would be interested because I have several other businesses I want to run.

    Punctuation and grammar are extremely important. People do not realize how the incorrect spellings affect their businesses. I block all music unless I am on youtube.

    This information has been extremely helpful because trends change and flashes irritate people.

  20. Paul says:

    I suppose you could make the argument that the use of music or other gimmickry (check the spelling on that!) depends on who your target market is. Still, I think that’s presumptuous. For those who collect hall-of-shame websites, here’s one that breaks most of the rules mentioned in previous posts…

    And they’re actually trying to sell stuff here?!!

    I think the key is: know your audience. You don’t have to go to lowest common denominator, but try to understand the sensibilities of your market.

    On the topic of low cost websites, some hosting companies offer very low cost – under $5 per month, but I have not seen $10 per year. A highly professional image doesn’t cost that much, and keep in mind the saying “if you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur.” The investment is small while the payoff is large.

  21. Quincunx says:

    Try going to a broken link on this site. You get a 404 error and, instead of the default and useless “there was an error, contact the admin, etc.”, the BEST information possible to help you get to a good link instead. It’s almost a joy to find a broken link, because it’s never a dead end. At the very least, remove your site’s default error messages and make them link back to the main page instead of being a dead end, but much better to try to keep the user pointed in the right direction.

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