At first glance, it probably seems like I’m pitting prettiness against functionality and suggesting that you can only have it one way or the other on websites.
That’s not what I mean.
I love great graphic design as much as the next…design geek…but my observation has been that when graphic designers try to be Web designers, they usually get it wrong. And as a graphic designer myself, I feel like I can say this with some degree of experience.
Of course there’s always going to be the exception — that rare graphic designer who truly builds well-functioning websites. But exception it is, unfortunately.
The reverse is, on the other hand, less often true. That is to say that a really great Web designer already knows how to make a website pretty because form follows function rather than function following form. Yes there are also bad Web designers and their sites are usually both ugly and non-functional.
So let’s talk about who gets it right, and how.
Smart before pretty
Excellent Web design begins first with those who know how websites should function. The rest is ornamentation. It’s like good architecture, where the building and interior are there to serve the movement of the human body through space. With excellent usability and function established by good architectural design, the space can then be adorned in any number of individualized interior designs.
Unlike most graphic design materials, the Web is not a world of brochures and signs and print ads where businesses put out their material simply to wow or make their presence known with the would-be customer now needing to seek you out.
Businesses put up websites in order to grab that customer now, to achieve that perfect storm of interactivity where the Web surfer lands on the site, easily knows how to find what she wants, and is ultimately converted from a visitor to a lead or a customer right away or in short order. With really good Web design, she’s also likely to become your e-cheerleader — sharing your site on social media venues and helping to build your business (or charity or political cause) for you.
But you know how it is if you have a bad experience on a website — you surf away in a millionth of a second. And this doesn’t always happen because a site looks like it was built in 1996, or the colors are garish and the fonts tiny or silly (Papyrus on a website is almost as bad as Comic Sans).
Visitors bounce just as much when you’ve built a site that looks beautiful but is a mess on the the organizational and functionality fronts. Bells and whistles like Flash plug-ins, music coming on automatically, millions of menu options, complex multi-layered backgrounds, and all kinds of design flourishes are often favorite tools of graphic designers who build websites.
And they suck. They suck even more on a phone or tablet.
Learn to love minimalism
In a world of information overload, these days “simple” is the keyword in website design. This certainly doesn’t mean a business can’t distinguish itself with a good look, with a well-designed logo, good color accents, well-chosen photographs, and readable but also brand-specific fonts fleshing out the graphic design elements at play on your website.
Simple website design today means, first of all, mobile responsive. Google’s “Mobilegeddon” announcement should have convinced everyone of that weeks ago, though the imperative for “mobile-first” design is already a couple years old. By now, for the 50% or more of web traffic visitors using mobile devices, it’s frustrating trying to view a website on a phone that is clearly built for laptops but not for mobile devices.
On the other side, I’ve also seen terribly simple websites. By that I mean terrible simple websites. So simple, so minimalist — dark grey type on white background — that nothing is happening. I’m there, and I don’t know what I can do or what is to be done. If your site doesn’t give strong enough visual clues to guide the visitor to where you want them to go, then your site is too simple.
Somewhere in between these extremes there’s a sweet spot. A more minimalist design that still makes clear what I want my site visitor to do and/or what I know they want to do on my site — find the reservations, donate, buy a product, make an appointment, like me on Facebook, read my blog, download my e-book, etc.
Check out these examples of ugly design vs. good design. The beauty is all in the usability.
If Web visitors have to stumble their way through 60 menu items, 4 auto-loading flash screens, or scroll for miles to find what they’re after, then I’ve already lost them.
When you’re looking for a Web designer, and you want the latest in well-thought out and proven design successes ask your potential website builder the following things:
- Are your sites mobile responsive? Ask to see samples.
- Do you use flat design or multilayered design?
- Do you build on an easy platform like WordPress?
- What security features do you build in to the site from the beginning?
Unfortunately, many graphic designers who have transitioned from doing brochures, logos and wedding invitations to doing websites may not have good answers to these questions because, while they can technically build a website, their professional development along functionality fronts too often lags.
When it comes to Web design, don’t let a pretty face distract you from seeing what’s inside. Real beauty, after all, is not just skin deep.
— Lindsay Curren, Creative Director, Curren Media Group