Beyond the Design
Determined to have a better web site than all of your competitors, you hire a designer with an impressive graphic design portfolio to produce a beautiful site layout unlike anything that your industry has seen. Unfortunately, by skipping a few crucial steps, you've blundered into a costly web site that none of your customers use. How did this happen?
Many people building their first business site simply stumble into it without an idea of why they want a site. Even if you're a frequent web user and your business already has a web presence, you should be aware of what you are trying to accomplish with your site.
There are many possible purposes for your web presence:
- Increasing brand awareness
- Selling products online
- Opening customer relations via the internet
- Offering informational products
- Coordinating with team members
- Scheduling events
Whatever the purpose, having it clear in mind when constructing your site is the first step to success on the web. The best graphic design will always lose to a site whose purpose is the foremost concern.
Having clear objectives for what the site should do will help organize your thoughts for the required features of the site. Consider who your audience is and what they will need to accomplish when they visit your site.
For example, if you want to students of your community college to obtain course information, consider their process of interacting with your site. They may try to search using specific criteria - degree program, course prerequisites, or time of day. When presented with a list of results, what they want to see most should appear near the top of the list. Each item should provide a link to more material, including the full course description, and perhaps also links to the web site for that degree program's department. What is the end result of a course search? Should the student be able to enroll in a class, or should they be able to submit a request for more information?
The usefulness of your site can be improved, and its development streamlined, by considering each type of person who will use the site and the goals that you want them to reach.
With the goals of each site visitor in mind, developers can start to map out the site and imagine functionality. Working with the site developer and designer, goals can be mapped to functionality.
Graphic design is an essential part of the process, where the design elements coalesce to produce a look that is inviting to users and provides them the clearest route to their goals. Just as important is the role of the developer, who implements the actual features as prescribed by the site goals and determines the resources your site will require to perform reliably. The development team can apply expertise to building your site that you might not have considered on your own.
For example, to build brand awareness, some optimizations can be made to the way your site is constructed so that they present optimal values for search indexing. Developers can make recommendations for additional actions you can take to promote your site on other networks, both by interacting personally with those networks and by integrating your site with those external networks. You can also gain insight from an experienced web developer regarding the best pairing of user experience with working functionality.
The design intermix of code and graphics is essential at an early stage so visitors are able to achieve their own goals when visiting your site, and so that the features behind the façade function seamlessly.
Even after your site is complete and deployed, you should strive to maintain the site's effectiveness. By analyzing your original goals for the site and comparing them to the site performance, you can make adjustments that improve your results.
If one of your goals is to get visitors to download a specific informational file from your site, you should work with your developers to determine the way to best assess whether the file is being downloaded. Applying analytics to the site can show you how effective your site is at funneling visitors to the information they seek. Using this information can help shape your site to improve the performance of your site in terms of your goals. It can also help you determine when the time comes to grow your site or to change your site's focus to better align with your market or audience.
Millions upon millions of poorly designed web sites clutter the internet. While advance planning might not be the panacea for a successful site, planning can make it simple to avoid many basic mistakes. Outlining the basic goals for your site in advance and applying them throughout the site development process can save development time and bring effectiveness to a great graphic design.