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Good Design is More than a Pretty Picture

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

If you think that an attractive looking website is the hallmark of a good design, prepare to be surprised! While an aesthetically pleasing website is an attribute of a good website design, it is not the key feature. Don’t jeopardise your website’s success by misunderstanding its design.

Pretty picture
Photo by Per Ola Wiberg..(PO…or Powi)

When assessing websites, it is tempting to assume the website with the greatest eye appeal has the best design. There are many websites which are extremely beautiful, with clever, inventive designs that lead to a “wow” reaction. While there is nothing wrong with this, if you want to have a successful website, it is not enough to just make a good-looking design.

Design is not art

Art is very different from design. Art is a personal interpretation, often leading to a very subjective reaction in viewers. Of course art has a place on the Internet — for example artists displaying their portfolio — but if personal artistic expression is not the goal of the website, art should not be included in the website’s design.

What is good design?

Good design is closely tied to the goals of the website. The design should be working to ensure the goals of the website are met, and should not be about creating a beautiful visual experience for a visitor. Although it is likely that creating a positive visual impression will help meet your website goals, it is not a requisite. For example, Google’s homepage is not breathtaking, but it is designed to be highly functional and effective.

A good website design will draw a visitor’s attention to the areas of the page that are most important (from the owner’s point of view). Not only this, but the visitor will be shown elements of the page in the desired order, and the design will help to lead to visitor behaviours conducive to “conversion” — whether that be filling out a form, downloading an E-book, etc.

In contrast to art, a good design is not subjective: all visitors should find the design easy-to-use, clear, effective and appropriate. Good design does not preclude fancy or involved designs and it is possible for good designs to range from bare-bones simplicity to extremely ornate. For example, for a website selling flowers a designer may decide a decorative floral background would lead to greater sales than a simpler design. However, the key is that every element of the design should work towards furthering the website’s goal.

Why good design is not easy

The prerequisite to creating a good design is having a clear website goal and knowing the target market. If you do not know what these are, you are not ready to create your website — unless you want to take a scattergun approach to website creation.

Unsurprisingly, creating a good website design is not easy. A web designer has to know how a target market will respond to a design and how to manipulate elements of the page to encourage the desired behaviour. This involves thorough knowledge of internet user psychology and behaviour (e.g. visitor eye movement patterns) as well as the key concepts of website design (e.g. the use of contrast to draw attention). It is this unseen, but vital knowledge that you are paying for when you hire a web designer.

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