|The Good, The
Bad and The Ugly of Modern Web Design
|By Kate Lyons
The accepted wisdom is that Web design - in relation to marketing
and e-tail - has proceeded in leaps and bounds since the days
of the 'moving brochure' web site. And in some senses, at least
in functionality, that is true. Gone are the days when a customer,
having gone to the trouble to find a Web site, arrived to find
a pretty but essentially useless visual and a phone and fax
number - something they could have found in the Yellow Pages.
Now web sites offer purchase, search and personalisation functions,
are critical in brand marketing and form a vital cog in a company's
marketing, distribution and operational arsenal.
for the bad news
|According to some Web design experts, the whole
trend may have gone too far the other way. Too many bells and
whistles, too many plug ins, too many added value offers and
too much information results in a Web site like a dog's breakfast.
The customer visiting with a clear purpose in mind - like buying
a product (service) and making the Web site profitable - ends
up confused and distracted and up to half leave without what
they came for. Which defeats the purpose of having a site in
the first place.
|Simon Van Wyk, managing director of one of Australia's
foremost Web development companies, Hothouse Interactive, is
one strategist who thinks Web design has actually gone backwards
in relation to marketing over the last few years.
|"Too many sites confuse good design with large
graphics and new technology, and they also confuse innovation
with stuff like animation," Van Wyk says.
|"Those of us who grew up building CD-Roms knew
that highly complicated highly animated interfaces didn't work.
The latest crop of designers have not had that training and
when the brief says innovative, they use flash and create something
which is just unuseable. No-one wants to just look at a Web
site - they want to use it."
|Matthew Walker, interactive strategist with Grey
Interactive (the interactive division of Grey Advertising),
agrees with Van Wyk on the bells and whistles problem and says
too many Web sites show signs of "designers running amok."
|"For many sites now, people are there to shop.
We have designed sites for specific clients with no flash technology,
because we know the penetration rates for flash and other plug
ins are low. Research has shown that up to 40% of people encountering
problems with plug ins for example will leave the site and not
come back. It's hard enough to get customers there in the first
place without actively discouraging their presence."
|Walker points out however that it is "horses for
courses" - for example youth audiences who are using a site
for relaxed entertainment don't mind increased download time
and they want the bells and whistles approach such as the use
of flash technology. Other demographics are actively suspicious
of back end technology like cookies and personalisation while
some audiences recognise the value of personalised Web experiences.
|"You have to choose your tools carefully," Walker
to do it right
|Are there any trails being blazed in Web design
in Australia at present? Van Wyk says he is not sure whether
trails can be blazed until marketers get the basics right. "Most
design for the Web does not even recognise the fundamental fact
that the Web should be about 'me'. I'm the user, I'm in control."
|After that, the number one issue to consider
is download times. "People don't want to wait and they don't
really care much about how it looks, they want it to work. Marketers
need to establish what is the key reason their site exists.
Then give the site the appropriate focus. "If the key reason
for the site's existence is to sell, then get the products up
on the home page. If the key reason is to service customers,
get the log on up on the front page."
|Web sites in general seem to becoming more cluttered
by the minute. However Van Wyk maintains that clutter itself
is not always a problem. "Have a look at a book page in Amazon
for example. It's cluttered but the sections are well defined
and the navigation is in a logical place. You always understand
where you are going and how to get there.
|"Another example is Yahoo, which is cluttered
but users can cope because its well defined and laid out." Walker
says that while some of the major Australian e-tailers like
Dstore and Wishlist are doing a good job, a key issue with e-commerce
is the need to work out what you are trying to do. "If the customer
is there to save time or money, you need to focus on that particular
offer. For example, Amazon when they sold books did extremely
well, but as soon as you broaden the offer, design gets harder.
It's not like you are in a shopping mall. A new category or
product is not a ten minute walk away, it's a click away to
new category. What is your focus? As soon as you have decided
on that, design and functionality start to mesh together."
|Another vital priority is consistency of brand
marketing through design once a user arrives at a site and
the ability to deliver on promise once you get there. A classic
example says Walker of what not to do is the recent case of
a marketer using sex to sell in a banner ad. When users arrived
at the site, it had nothing to do with the banner at all. "It's
all about 360 degree branding, from site to transaction to fulfillment.
Word of mouth is still the strongest form of advertising
and if someone has a bad experience - long download, plug in
problems, lack of consistency or functionality in navigation
- they will tell a friend.
|As Walker points out, even when Web design was
in its infancy, the basic tenets were functionality, navigation
and usability. "Now they are being forgotten in the rush
for the new and the flashy, and being lost in a barrage of over-information."
Van Wyk says that good design is 100% about meeting the customer's
expectations and on the Web that means considering how a user
interacts with design.
|"You have to focus on what the customer wants
to be successful. Too much design is usually about what a 22
year old designer thinks is cool or hip, not what the customer
needs or wants."
|Reprinted from E-Media Marketer
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