Background for this post
I was reading recently on the kissmetrics blog about unforgettable website designs (where a couple of my links came from). If this were the only place I’d looked, obviously my statistics would be quite flawed – but it’s not – I’m just too lazy to post other links (and you might find examples in your internet adventures). Anyways, out of the 10 random sites the blogger chose, most were either for 1) content stuck right in your face or 2) ooo fancy. I looked at the sites too. I must say, some of them really are unforgettable. In fact, navigating them is so unforgettable that I intend to never visit those sites again. How’s that for a business remark.
Paradise er.. Purpose Lost
These days, some programmers are making websites an eye-popping and/or “interactive” experience. (I say some because many of us are stuck in the 1998 routine.) Consider, for example, the “Three Dreams of Black” project (http://www.ro.me/) or the Bullett Agency website (“http://www.thebullittagency.com). For the “Three Dreams of Black” project, on of the developers was recorded as having said they are making the web “more than just text and images”, or something to that effect. It’s great that we can do a ton of stuff with a browser. One day we may have programs that we can use entirely over the web (nevermind the ridiculous number of security risks) – at least then we wouldn’t have to pay for copies (unless companies started charging subscriptions).
While it’s nice to have a shiny website with all kinds of bells and whistles, the designer is forgetting about the user. Ask yourself, which sites do you use most? Let’s simplify that: Would you prefer myspace or facebook? Functionality trumps artistic appearance. Why has every search engine copied the Google homepage (originally the Ask.com homepage before they changed it)? – It’s not because it’s pretty. It isn’t. It’s bland. But it does it’s job perfectly. The designers could add some fancy image to the homepage if they wanted, but they wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do something that would inhibit the functionality of the page.
The thing I read many people complaining about technology is its functionality; never have I read a complaint about appearance, except for gadgets and things that people expect to look trendy. Just because people don’t have a means (other than blogs like mine) to complain doesn’t mean that web design should be overlooked. Usually when people comment on web design, it’s at the Does-this-look-good phase and not the Can-you-maneuver-around-this-site phase, which, sadly, tends to come only after the site is published.
Except… the whole purpose of a website is to convey information about something over the internet. This should be done in a manner that makes such information easy to find, and such information should be what people are looking for. Example of when it’s not? – Typical university website. What kind of information are people looking for? Oh, just things like “About” (what the site is for), an easy-to-find navigation panel, “Contact Us” (a way to contact the site owner and/or business), simple items. If this is the website for a business, then there should be an easy way to find out about what products are offered not some rambling rigamarole about why this company, in a few mouthfuls of vague, generic adjectives, is suitable for you. People go to a business website to find out about the company. If they are exploring your site (and not heading straight for the “Contact Us” page/links), then they probably haven’t been sold on the idea of working with you, despite what some website designers might say (which may or may not say something about their confidence in their finished products). If that’s the case, then obviously the site should be conducive to learning about the company and its products (meaning it provides the content in a easy-to-find manner while at the same time being aesthetically pleasing).
Why is site functionality neglected?
Here’s one reason: If you’re sitting in front of a computer monitor day in and day out, it’s nice to look at something pretty, flashy, or maybe even 3D for a change. That little monitor has become a window to another world. Yea poor programmer need oxygen. Solution: Go outside and get some fresh air. Enjoy the real world and stop thinking about the digital one for awhile. We don’t need a web with a realistic appearance – You need to appreciate the real one where all of the physics is done for you.
Another reason: It looks cool to everyone. As I said above, people usually comment on a website’s design in the Does-it-look-good phase. The result is that web designers and programmers start to think “Hey, people just want a cool looking internet” rather than “Maybe we should ask them for their opinion on site navigation and content”. Seriously: How many times have people raised the question, “So what’s this for?”
You can have your fancy shmancy website, and I may never forget what it looked like. But if I can’t remember what it was for, chances are, I’ll never find you and your product again unless a) I stumble upon it on accident (not likely with today’s internet size) or b) you’re a big company and possibly didn’t need a website for business anyways, in which case your site is a money sink.