It's hard to believe, but many Web designers will make the same mistakes in 2012 that were being made over a decade ago.
As new brands and websites emerge, and new designers enter the work force, it is often useful to address the most common mistakes made in the presentation and organization of Web properties. Without knowing the history, how can those in the Web design industry continue to break new ground?
As the discussion regarding standards continues, design in great part will continue to rely on the aesthetic sensitivity and technical knowledge of designers themselves. Some of the most common mistakes are so basic to experienced designers, however, that they may have simply forgotten how truly important they are to the user experience. For designers who do not have as large a portfolio of experience, learning (and learning to avoid) the most common blunders will make every finished product a showpiece.
The aim of a designer should be to create a unique experience - an experience that blends creativity and functionality and does so as close to perfectly as possible. While users will be drawn to a website based on the uniqueness and originality of messaging found across the 'Net, it is the appearance and experience that designers provide which determines a user's initial satisfaction as well as their loyalty over time. Much more goes into a successful design, of course, than element positioning and image choice - and the savviest designers are perfectly cognizant of this challenge. The path some businesses want to take still baffles many seasoned interactive professionals.
"One of the most common blunders a company can make is simply buying a website template for their design," says Mike Sauce, founder of the Horizon Interactive Awards. "Custom designs always perform better because the right website designer can get to know a client and make the website reflect the overall feel of the company."
Designers have a lot of responsibility to ensure that the "feel" of the company is portrayed, but also balanced with their business objectives. For example, the clarity of message communication is also the responsibility of the designer, as are the conversion paths, site structure and, in some instances, even technical/software integration. The challenges facing designers today and in 2012 are substantial, but armed with an understanding of the mistakes that other designers have made, you will be ready to create awardwinning sites in the future.
Below are a few of the most common blunders and some guidance on how to avoid them:
Design elements are often so deeply integrated with the performance of a Web property that poor initial choices can wreak havoc on the user experience and do damage to revenue over the long term.
Website Magazine conducted an open-thread poll on "Web design turnoffs" with our Facebook community in October 2011, and we found that our followers are quite passionate about the subject. In the eyes of our followers, the use of audio or video that plays automatically on a site was the biggest blunder, garnering 30.4 percent of the votes from respondents. There are, of course, other egregious mistakes that many designers still make - even though we know better.
Readability as a concept is not lost on Web users. Defined as the quality of written language that makes it easy to read and understand, readability should always be an important consideration. The challenge is in the many ways in which readability is influenced. In that same open-thread poll on Facebook, survey respondents indicated several elements which had a negative impact on readability, including "small text" and "poor link formatting." Let's look at these two issues in more detail:
Understanding where you've been helps you better understand where you're going, both in life and on websites. For the Web, links are the key component in this navigation process. Knowing which links you've already visited keeps you from unintentionally revisiting the same page again. Designers that do not change the color of a link once it's been clicked could cause frustration (and perhaps even disorientation) among users which will result in a poor experience for both the user and the business. Designers should take care to develop link styles that change color once the visitor has clicked on it.
Another challenge for designers is being forced to work with copy that is not easily readable/scannable, which can be intimidating to readers. While designers don't have much (if any) control over the content type, they do have control over how it is presented. The use of bullet points, sub-headings, bold-print and short paragraphs make all copy more inviting, particularly as most website visitors won't actually read everything verbatim. Web designers should have their own internal standards as to what is effective for readability as it relates to their style choices and be able to convey them to colleagues or clients as needed.
While Web designers aren't fully responsible for search engine optimization, many of the choices they make certainly influence success. For example, the use of alt tags should be present on images, microdata could be integrated into listings for events or people, and load times should be optimized - these elements all play a role in achieving Web success.
If there is one area of focus that all designers could spend more time on, it is that of mastering the art of positively influencing conversion. Placement and positioning of elements (along with element selection - images, add-to-cart buttons) such as calls to action and trust signals are fundamentally important to the conversion process. Understanding the objective - and the barriers to it - will ensure they can be met and overcome. Gaining access to analytics and even heat map data will show designers where users' attention is going and provide a way to close the loop - gaining valuable feedback about design choices and the user experience along the way.
Not only must designers avoid these blunders, but also consider the impact that the design choices they make have on both the aesthetic appeal and on the underlying experience of the user, as well as the success of a Web enterprise. That is what it will take to create award-worthy websites in 2012.