Nine times out of 10, when I’m talking to someone about improving their website, design is where the conversation begins. But design is rarely the main problem. Form follows function is a key principal for effective design, and what defines function for a website is primarily branding, information architecture, copywriting and content. Deficiencies in any of these areas will contribute to a less-than-optimal design. If you and your co-workers feel unsure about your website’s look and feel, it could mean that it’s time for an assessment of what’s working and what isn’t in all of these areas.
Regardless of whether design is what needs to be addressed first, if you’re thinking about improving your website for demand generation, there’s a good chance that a redesign will be a big part of the process. Your updated branding guidelines or streamlined new information architecture are going to need an effective visual expression that is arresting, exciting and persuasive.
In some cases design is the main place where a website is failing to begin with. Before I get into how to assess whether or not this is the case, a quick disclaimer: There’s certainly an aspect of design that is subjective; it can only be qualified by personal opinions and preferences. However, it’s a much smaller part of the equation than most people think. Much of what is liked or disliked about a design is directly related to how clearly form follows function (if this weren’t the case, meeting design objectives would be almost impossible). This is the part that is analyzable — and, therefore, the best place to begin an assessment. From this point of view, consider how your website stacks up by asking the following questions:
- Does form follow function? Are actionable links that funnel visitors toward website objectives (See information architecture question #2) highly visible and above the fold on every page of the website?
- Does your design reflect the defined order of importance of key value propositions, messages, target audiences, buyer profiles and offers?
- Are design templates consistent from homepage to inner page and in different sections of the site? Are there noticeable inconsistencies, especially in the position of interactive content elements, like menus and navigation?
- Does your design feel clean, open and highly legible? Is it easy to see right away what the subject matter of each page is, or is there often too much information crowded in too small an area and in too small a font?
- Are there more than three columns of information on any page (studies have shown that stacking more than this amount of information horizontally negatively effects comprehension)?
- Is your website taking advantage of the full 1024 pixel minimum width of modern computer screens, or is it inordinately narrow and vertically-oriented?
- Does your design appear outdated, ugly, or unappealing in general in consideration of the defined target audience and/or your competition?
If you are considering using a web design firm to help you redesign your website, take their work through this same set of questions. And be wary if you are never asked about your information architecture, content or branding. There’s a tendency in the industry to put too much emphasis on the ethereal. You may end up with a website that looks fresh, but doesn’t do anything to generate more demand for your products or services.
In my next post I’ll examine functionality and coding, and the huge role that it plays in user experience.
Note: This is post five of a nine-post series entitled, “Is Your Website Optimized for Demand Generation?” To read more of Justin’s series, just follow the links below…
Tune into a podcast interview about this post with the author of the series.
For more information on website optimization, check out Nowspeed’s eight chapter eBook “Is Your Website Optimizated for Demand Generation and High ROI?”