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Web design and the value of simplicity

Published: 23rd April 2009

Author: Andrew Hart

The design of your website is one of the most important factors in getting that initial wow factor that will draw your visitors in. However, whilst the look is what may initially hook visitors it is the content and usability of a website that will bring them back time and time again. This article explores how to get the design right, not only for that all important first-impression, but to help you gain a loyal visitor base.

Common errors

Design by committee

The most common error is a lack of control by a central designer or design team. All too often websites are designed by a committee which leads to a design that doesn't really stand out, focusing on internal tastes rather than the target market. This also tends to lead to the page being over-crowded with information as everyone is clammering to get their message across.

The wrong designer

Where the design is left to a traditional graphic designer there is a tendancy to over-design a web-page in an attempt to impress visitors, delivering a visually spectacular website but drawing the users eye away from the all important content.

Bargain basement

Cheap web design companies are cheap for a reason. To keep costs down many cut-price suppliers use tired old templates with no originality. They shoe-horn your content into a fancy-looking template regardless of whether it meets your current needs or allows for future expansion. Worse still, they take little or no account of whether the design will appeal to your users, many do not even ask who your website is aimed at. This lack of quality goes beyond the design aspect but that is a discussion for another article. Caveat emptor (buyer beware) investing in any bargain basement website.

Technology led sites

Even more expensive website providers can get it wrong. These tend to be ones focused around a certain technology (often Flash, a forum, or a CMS) where the design is technology-led rather than built around the needs of the user. In the case of Flash these websites are typically very focused on design, not usability. Forums and CMS lead to websites crammed full of "features" regardless of if they provide any real value to your visitors.

The solution is simplicity itself

Web designs should be carried out by trained, experienced web designers. That may sound overly simplistic but you would be amazed how often this advice is ignored in an attempt to cut costs or to please internal politics.

A good web designer will first get:

  • a detailed brief of your business
  • a breakdown of your existing/target customer base
  • details of any existing 'corporate identity' or literature
  • an understanding of the scope of the initial content you wish to publish and where you might need to expand in the foreseeable future
  • an understanding of how you propose to manage your website.

This information will be collected and analysed before they even begin working on a design for you. Using all the information collected, coupled with a strong understanding of web design your designer should provide you with a website that represents your business well but is focused on the needs of your users.

A large amount of these requirements are met through simplicity. The rule "less is more" most certainly applies as clearly laid-out, un-crowded pages deliver many design benefits including:

  • an appealing design but not distracting from the content
  • easy to interpret layout and navigation/'scan-reading'
  • your users can carry out their 'tasks' quickly (e.g. finding articles/buying items)
  • users are not distracted by gadgets or advertising etc.

There are also many other benefits from having a simple, well built website:

  • Search engines optimisation is increased as their keyword results are better focused (gets you more visitors)
  • It takes up less space on your server and uses less bandwidth which can lead to lower hosting costs
  • Pages load fast so your visitors are not kept waiting
  • A simple layout is more flexible and future redesigns or modifications are faster, easier and cheaper to carry out
  • It is cheaper and easier to manage
  • Current/future web browsers are easier and cheaper to test and account for.

Case study: Google

If you still debate that simplicity is important ask yourself this - what is the most popular website you can think of. Chances are that Google appeared somewhere at the top of that list. It is so popular it has made it into everyday language and people now "Google" something rather than "search" for it. Why is it so successful? It delivers what you are looking for fast and without distraction. Prior to Google's emergence Yahoo!, Lycos and MSN had the search engine market cornered but they delivered their results on pages heavy with flashy adverts and 'gadgets', slowing loading times and distracting the user from the task at hand.

Keep it simple

Simplicity is the most important key in web design, delivering your content quickly and without distraction.

Users do not want to have to interpret your website, they certainly do not want to learn how to use it, they came for a reason and they want to satisfy that reason fast.

Less is most certainly more where Web design is concerned.

To find out just how Simius Web can help you apply this practice to your website ask us today and we will be pleased to help.

Further reading

If you are interested in learning more about keeping web design simple here are some articles from other Web experts that I respect and admire: