Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Life In Web Design

So I’ve done some thinking and decided that I need to take a turn in my blog. You see, I write a blog for web design at my job also, and I thought I could just repurpose the content here too. Well, I’m beginning to think that not all the things I write about at work will be pertinent here. For work, I do a lot of research so that executives can better make decisions around the web space. Therefore, I have to find information that is reliable and from a trustworthy source, so I cite where I get all my information. Apparently, on this blog though, linking to too many outside sites triggers the spam flag. Geesh! So I’ve decided to turn this blog into a more “personal experience” in web design diary.

My background is a very corporate one. So my design and theories are more conservative and focus on end-user experience and professionalism. I think there are a lot of great designers out there, with seemingly limitless creativity. I’ve been designing for the corporate world for eight years now, so over time I have become less of a risk taker with a utilitarian approach to the web. I hope to offer a perspective into this corporate aspect. I think it’s a quieter and somewhat darker side of the web. The reality side where marketing dictates the amount of ethnicity that can be portrayed in photos, or trying to come up with a good way to place the same exact button to the same exact place in four different places on your home page because a VP wants it that way, or trying to find the exact shade of red another VP wants who changes his mind about it every other day. This is the extent of my adventures. This is my life in web design.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Home Page

The Home page of a web site is the most important page. Obviously it is the very first impression a user gets about your company as well as your site. Its look will determine your company’s level of professionalism and its organization will determine the usefulness of your site. There are three key items to consider when building your site’s home page:
  • Provide easy access to the home page
  • Treat your home page as a “buffet” of your site
  • Quality is key
Provide Easy Access to the Home Page
Many users return to the home page of a site over and over. It’s the one place a user knows they can start from if they get lost in your site or if they need to begin an entirely new task on your site. Therefore, it is important to enable users the ability to navigate back to the home page from any page on your site. Many organizations link the company logo to the home page and while most users are familiar with this solution, it is ultimately best to have a link labeled ‘Home’ back to the home page.

Treat Your Home Page as a “buffet” of your site
At a buffet, all your food options are available for your choosing. The same should go for your home page. All your major choices of content should be presented here in a neat and organized fashion so as not to force a user to dive deeper and deeper to discover the full breadth of your sites content. Be selective about what you put on the home page, but make sure to present all the most important options available to a user which are relevant to the goals you’ve outlined for the site.

Quality is Key
If the buffet bar you attend serves up old food on dirty plates and you can’t even tell what it is, you probably won’t eat there. Yuck! The only message that conveys is that you are most assuredly going to get sick. Your home page is the same. A study found that when judging the quality of a web site, half the time users used only the home page as the measuring stick of quality. If you present a quality home page with a clean look and well- organized content that readily conveys what you have to offer, your users will expect that you are serving them quality content from a reliable source and are more likely to return.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Optimize the User Experience

We have only moments to grasp the attention of visitors to our site. What we do with those precious moments may determine how that user feels about us for years to come. It’s the old “first impressions last a lifetime” cliché put to use. At the bare minimum of your site design, should be the desire to optimize the user experience. Time is valuable, probably the most precious commodity we have and we should treat it as such. Aside from the obvious importance of delivering engaging, useful content, it should be delivered as quickly and effieciently as possible.

There are a number of tried-and-true considerations outlined by numerous usablity resources. I’m going to focus on three in this article:

  1. Skip the annoying pop-ups
  2. Give your site creditibility
  3. Consistency is golden

Skip the annoying pop-ups
Pop-ups were novel in the beginning, but quickly grew as the top most annoying features of Web sites. Nothing is worse than reading an article on a page and getting interrupted by, “Learn how to increase your income now.” No thanks! It’s completely disrupting to the user’s focus. I don’t think this feature is helpful even on sites that are well intentioned. I recently visited and was immediately faced with a screen that grayed out and a box that asked if I wanted to chat to a live person. This box completely hindered my intentions of reading the page. If that’s what I wanted to do, I would have clicked on your link or even called. I mean, give me a chance to even look around first. I go to the Web to do research to make informed choices at my own pace and in my own way, don’t try to force something out of me I don’t want or I’ll go somewhere else. Not only do they annoy, but in my opinion, they seriously diminish a Web site’s credibility. They give a cheesy, sleezy impression. Like a pushy used-car salesman approach whose only interest is to sell you not to inform you.

Give your site creditibility
If you want to keep your users coming back for more, nothing is more affective than giving them timely, reliable information they can trust. Stanford has put together a top-ten list of creditibilty guidelines compiled over three years and based on 4,500 users input.

  • Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
  • Show that there's a real organization behind your site.
  • Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
  • Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
  • Make it easy to contact you.
  • Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).
  • Make your site easy to use -- and useful.
  • Update your site's content often (at least show it's been reviewed recently).
  • Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).
  • Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

Additionally, government usability research states “the most important Web site-related actions that organizations can do to help ensure high Web site credibility are to:

  • Provide a useful set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers;
  • Ensure the Web site is arranged in a logical way;
  • Provide articles containing citations and references;
  • Show author’s credentials;
  • Ensure the site looks professionally designed;
  • Provide an archive of past content (where appropriate);
  • Ensure the site is as up-to-date as possible;
  • Provide links to outside sources and materials; and
  • Ensure the site is frequently linked to by other credible sites.”*

Consistency is Golden
A site is easily learned when the actions required by a user are consistent throughout the site. For instance, it is vital to place the navigation in the same place throughout the site so a user can easily navigate from place to place. Also, it is particularly helpful to follow standard practices that users have become accustomed to such as top and left navigation panes. Shopping cart processes also have a flow that users are familiar with. Straying from the norm will only frustrate users and drive their business away.

Further, large sites typically offer different applications with unique functionalities. Valuable time is wasted if the user is forced to re-learn every application he chooses to learn. The more applications a user is forced to re-learn, the less a user desires to venture into new applications. However, if the applications have a consistent interface, a user can easily adapt between them, making for a seemingly transparent transistion as far as the user is concerned. This familiarity results in more willingness to examine additional offerings.

Web sites should faciliate user interactions by encouraging efficiency, credibility, and consistency in order to reach top-notch content. Keeping these key optimization techniques in the forefront of any site plan is a great start to successful Web design.


Design Process and Evaluation

The priority of a Web site is to inform your users and convince them to user your services and keep them coming back for more. At a high level, there are some key items to consider before even starting the design of a website.
  1. Provide engaging and relevant content to an appropriate audience.
  2. Understand your users’ requirements.
  3. Ensure your content is organized according to your users’ expectations.
  4. Guarantee completeness and accuracy of user requirements by involving the user.
  5. Set goals of the Web site before beginning the design process.
Provide content that is engaging, relevant, and appropriate to the audience
Content is the information provided on a Web site. Studies have found that content is the most critical element of a Web site and that content is more important than navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity. Afterall, that is why a user is visiting your site, not to look at pretty pictures, but to learn about your company, what you do, and how you can help them succeed. Do not waste resources driving users to content that does not meet their needs. Do so can annoy the user and drive them away from your site entirely.

Understand your users’ requirements
The more we communicate with our end users, the more we can understand their needs and the needs of potential users thereby increasing the probablility of a successful Web site. Communication can be carried out through customer support lines (Help Desk), surveys, and interviews as well as through, sales people, focus/user groups, and tradeshows. There is no shortage of opinion when it comes to Web design and successful Web sites utilize information gathered from a minumum of four different sources. The information gathered can then be used to build “use cases” for the company providing a valuable reference to users changing needs over time which may extend beyond just web-related needs and into product desires.

Ensure your content is organized according to your users’ expectations
Usability is defined as the users’ perception of how consistent, efficient, productive, organized, easy to use, intuitive, and straightforward it is to accomplish tasks within a system. It is important to fully develop an understanding of user expectation through analysis and research. Users often react to sites based on their past experiences and studies have shown users act on their own expectations even when on-screen directions counter them.

Familiar formats and navigation layout makes it easier for a user to learn your site. Generally, visitors don’t often return to your site unless the content is frequently updated and sought after for regular consumption. So the reoccurance of users visiting your site is limited in number, a familiar design scheme allows for first-time users to learn your site efficiently.

Guarantee completeness and accuracy of user requirements by involving the user
A basic principle of effective web design is to keep the design focused on your user’s needs. User studies have become a widely accepted method in the development of usable sites and is the most valuable resource when trying to improve completeness and accuracy of site requirements. Not only can it help in development of new features, but it can help to eliminate unused features.
User involvement may help to determine the content and tools offered on a web site, but generally has been shown to be an ineffective resource in actual design decisions. Therefore, users tests are helpful in determining what to put on your site, but not how to display it.

Set goals of the Web site before beginning the design process
Setting the primary goals of your Web site is vital before starting design work. Whether it is to educate, inform, entertain, sell, etc. will affectively dictate your design. A good set of goals will determine the audience, content, and function, as well as the site’s unique look and feel. It is a also good idea to communicate the goals to, and develop consensus for the site goals from, management as well as those working on the Web site.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Engage Your Customer through the Newest Trends in Marketing and Web Development

There are a number of trends growing in marketing and web development. The overall theme of which is: Tell a Story.

The key is not just to tell the story, however. It is to involve the user in your story – make them feel they play an active role in the story’s development as though they are driving your content and helping it to evolve.There are numerous ways of accomplishing this user involvment that companies have had great success with.

CEO Blogs
A number of CEOs are starting to blog. People instinctively trust successful corporate leaders and value their guidance on business advice. CEOs are viewed as authoritative. Additionally, customers visiting the blog feel a personal experience through which brand loyalty is spawned.

Check out for a listing of popular blogs by CEOs.

Twitter is becoming a more effective and free way for marketers to reach customers. With Twitter, users sign up to “listen” to the people they want to follow. If the Tweets are interesting and informative they will have more consumers thereby reaching a larger audience that is targeted to your industry. Effective use of Twitter for B2Bs will drive thought leadership and push technology through an extensive knowledge in order to build your brand. B2Cs have success with giveaways to those that respond.

Skittles ( has taken a huge leap of faith in creating their website through social media. Their home pages consits of feed consumption of anything with their name in it from Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. They have had to apply filters however, in order to limit negative content.

Affective widgets are those that can be reused by consumers. The content is ever-changing and fresh providing content that users want direct access to and want to tell others about. A radio widget might have various songs or podcasts deployed daily. A user can then post your widget on their website, blog, Facebook, etc in order to spread the word.

3D technology is reaching the web and beyond. Papervision 3D and Away 3D are two products facilitating this trend and 3D navigation is a captivating way to engage users to explore your site.Think of the iPod experience of scrolling through albums and you’ll get the idea.

Websites are using 3D to allow interaction with their product for a simulated hands-on experience with product. Other effective uses include 3D games and augmented reality. Some 3D experiences are also infiltrating tradeshows through 3D Immersion and multi-touch interactive displays where the future of digital interaction lies.

Mobile Technologies
Mobile technology is a fast growing trend. The iPhone is the fastest growing mobile device available and are expected to grow 164%* by 2010. 67% of mobile internet traffic is coming from iPhones and 75% of mobile users watch online videos through their device. Multi-player online gaming is also becoming increasingly popular through mobile technology. Also imagine mobile meetings in the future.

Furthermore, other mobile media is steadily growing such as PDAs, music players, and home gaming systems able to connect to the internet. A projected 190 million households by 2012 will connect to a website through these systems displaying and interacting with content through their TV monitors effectively turning passive TV watching into an interactive experience.

Desktop Marketing
Desktop marketing leverages exsisting web technologies for more engaging interactivity – bringing the web to the desktop and delivering the latest information at any given moment. Internal use may include marketing communications and sales so that no matter the location of a user, they are up-to-date with the latest information.

Integrated Campaigns
The final piece is integrating all these interactive technologies as well as conventional marketing techniques together to tell your story. Starting with flyers, posters, magazine and newspaper ads and then moving your story online through social media, widgets, and interactive media accessible anywhere, anytime. An effective campaign has a viral affect; growing by new storytellers unravelling the story and bringing more people to hear it unfold.