We’ve all experienced the frustration of trying to get around a bad website. Links that don’t work, pages that won’t load, a promise of information on the next screen only to find more confusion. It’s always annoying, and guarantees we’ll look for a different site next time we need something.
We also know what it’s like to open a page, type in the search box, and click straight through to a product we want. You might not even remember the last time it happened - because when things work as they should, we don’t register the event at all. We get what we want, and move on. That is a successful UX, and it’s what every web design should aspire to.
1. The design
You know the old ‘customer is always right’ cliche? Adapt it for webspace design. It doesn’t matter if you think something looks great/feels right/utilises satire to highlight some cleverly ironic statement. It’s not about you, it’s about the people searching for what they want and need, and if the design doesn’t resonate they’ll back-click and find something that does. If you don’t cater for the consumers being directed your way, your website will not convert traffic into returns.
So, invest time in exploring your target audience. Let data drive your marketing, and don’t stop there. Investigate other sites your customer base visits, and use that information - follow what works elsewhere, and improve upon it. There’s nothing wrong with learning from the expertise of others.
2. What’s the point?
It’s all very well to decide the goal of your new web design is ‘to make more sales’ or ‘to advertise.’ These are understandable aims - but they’re not specific, and don’t define a clear course of action. Break the vague down into small, clear parts, and focus on how you’re going to achieve them. You also don’t want to be redesigning the site every few months, so focus on keeping the goal relevant over a period of time.
You can do this by focusing on the primary purpose of your website. Are you trying to convey information? Are you promoting services? Perhaps you’re there to connect users to other people, or you’re acting as a commercial hub. The purpose for which your website exists should never be forgotten.
3. Walk, don’t run
You might have been dying to redesign for ages. You’re probably brimming with ideas for improvement, and ways to make things look great. And that’s brilliant - later. In the first instance, you should begin with how things function. Decide on the important content. Figure out how users are going to get around. Look back to point #2 - the primary purpose of your website should be at the heart of every decision you make. If you lose sight of that in the bigger picture, you may find yourself having to rebuild from scratch. Start with the foundations, and grow from there.
4. Page one comes first
First impressions matter, and that’s never more true than when a customer clicks on to your homepage. It’s the gateway to your website, the initial look at your brand, and the first chance to navigate through your goods, or ideas.
If it sounds like a lot is riding on your homepage, it is. But the amount of time people spend on websites has established certain expectations that are easy to fulfil; for example, that clicking the logo on any page will return them ‘home’, and that there will be pertinent links - contact info, list of services, schedule of events - somewhere prominent.
As for content itself, the general rule is Simple. Written content should be concise, convey information quickly and be easy to read. Important information should come first, at the top of the page, where the user’s eye is naturally drawn. There should be clear links to other places you want your customers/readers to go, such as a news feed, blog, or forum. If your site has categorised sales pages, they should all be clearly listed and easily to navigate.
5. Accessibility is everything
On phones. On tablets. In cars. On our wrists. People are no longer confined to firing up a computer at a desk, or on their laps. Websites need to be as engaging while your customers are standing at a bus stop as they are in an office - more so perhaps, because if someone can’t navigate your site on their phone, they’re more likely to find one they can.
But a designer must understand what a user requires in a mobile experience. Smartphone use is most popular for social media, messaging and catching headlines, but desktop and tablets are still more popular for detailed review and purchase. Traffic to retail websites is more or less equal between phones and desktop, but mobile conversion rates are lower.
Therefore, it’s important to ensure an adaptive web design, where the layout and content are tailored for screens of different sizes. Content tailored for car dashboards needs to be readable at a glance, for the sake of safety. This goes for wearables too - no one in the middle of a workout wants to stop to read an over-wordy breakdown of their activity. Users in the twenty-first century expect their content to be there for them whenever they want, on whatever device they choose to experience it on. Designers need to optimise UX for all platforms.
6. Pictures are worth a thousand words
This is especially true of mobile technology. And even more so if we replace ‘pictures’ with ‘video’. The less text there is crammed on to a tiny screen, the better. And with every phone coming equipped with headphones, there is no reason not to look into short videos as a viable way to get a message or pitch across.
Of course, there are issues with this. Desktop videos that run on Flash will not work with Apple technology, at least not without the user downloading an extension as a workaround. Video can be draining to a mobile battery, or require a strong wifi or 4G signal to work properly. The benefits can be great, however; an engaging speaker, a strong visual, a great choice of song or speech can reach a person in ways that having them simply read might not.
If video is not your speed, consider other visuals. (Top tip: don’t use stock images.) Take into account that pictures can create a credible image, which in turn enhances trust. People like to see what they’re getting, and who they might be working with. It’s much easier to believe in the culture of an organisation if they can see some proof of it with their own eyes.
7. Crunch the numbers
Yes, this means SEO. It’s not something that can be ignored for a new or rebuilt website, and there’s enough information about Google algorithms out there to make it less daunting. (A simple Google search will give you the highlights.) It will help you optimise your website for rewarded tactics from the get-go, rather than having to adapt later.
However, you should keep in mind that focusing entirely on search engines and what they want might actually be detrimental to your business. Keep your consumer at the forefront of every decision. Base the UX around them - see #1 - and build the SEO into that experience. People before statistics, always.
8. Get by with a little help from your friends
And your colleagues, and your boss, and the accountants, and the artists…you get the idea. Designing a large website is a collaborative effort, and often one that has to go through a series of checks, approvals, and re-writes. While communication is great, and definitely important, organisation is the key here. A realistic timeline, with clear allocation of duties and expectations, will go a long way to keeping things running smoothly.
9. Don’t get lazy
Sure, the old website was great once. It worked, it did its job. But its time is over, and it needs to be laid to rest. Do not be tempted to lift its copy, and stick it straight into your shiny new design. It’ll look more outdated than ever if it’s surrounded by all the bells and whistles of a made-over website. Remember that customers change, trends move on, and you need to stay current to stay relevant.
10. Don’t forget who you are (and don’t be afraid to show it)
Further to #9 - staying current is important, but it’s equally important not to lose sight of your brand personality, or sever the link to your core values. Your website design should always reflect your brand and goals, or consumers will lose the connection between what they see and what they feel you stand for.
11. The end is just the beginning
You’ve redesigned the site. It looks amazing. And now the next phase begins, because in order to get the most out of your design you’ll need to keep on top of how it’s actually running. It will need tweaking, and updating. The best UX is one that improves over time, getting faster, removing that tiny bug, optimising the direction and ease of traffic. Things may go wrong, or customers may not respond to it in the way you thought they would. Be aware that it’s an ongoing project, and nothing is ever perfect - or at least, not for long. With attention to detail and a long-term ROI strategy in place, you’ll hopefully enjoy a fruitful return from your continuing hard work.