There are websites that look beautiful but function horribly – information is hard to find and navigation is almost non-existent. And there are also sites that have clear and concise information, but the look is not something you’ll remember or invite friends to look at. Finding a good balance of form and function will be the key to a site that you and your customers will love.
I Want Everything!
I’m working with a client who has a small budget but would like the ability to add updated product photos and information to a new website for their retail shop.
Their current ‘site’ consists of a main page with basic store information and a second page with a little Flash slideshow that showcases some of their featured products. The client is ready for a larger site, one that she can add content to on a regular basis and provide a place for her customers to browse some of the unique and handcrafted items that she carries.
With a budget of under $1000, I suggested a content management system (CMS) like WordPress that is template-based, but could be mildly customized to suit her needs. Using a test site, I found a template that included a rotating slideshow on the main page and set up a basic site to present as a model for her to consider.
“We like the idea of a more layered collage kind of look,” was her response. “Maybe blow up details of an image for the background…and use the hands as tabs for categories instead of straightforward tabs and margins. We want it to look fun, but also clear and easy to navigate.”
Having designed websites since 1996, her comments were not surprising to me. Often, business owners see a ten or twenty-thousand dollar site they like and want their own pages to be as elaborate. And even when price is not an issue, many well-intentioned people choose a pretty design over considerations that would benefit the people that will use the site most: their customers.
Most often, the biggest challenge is convincing clients that having all the bells and whistles on their website isn’t neccessarily better.
Web Design vs. Web Development
A good web designer will create a site that reflects the nature of your business in a way that is unique enough to stand out from the crowd of online storefronts.
A good web developer will design a site that is user-friendly, adheres to web best-practices, and functions correctly.
The most common mistake a business owner makes when choosing a site design themselves is not understanding who the site is being built for. Wanting something that appeals to themselves, rather than the needs of their customers who will be using the site, is not the route to go.
I once collaborated on a web project where the client insisted that their new site should look exactly like their favorite car dealership site, with a main page Flash slideshow and exciting sounds and buttons. The problem was that their business dealt with document storage and recovery. Even after trying to explain that document storage probably wouldn’t be as graphically exciting in a web slideshow as new cars, the client wouldn’t budge. Not wanting to create something that we knew might please the client but wouldn’t serve the needs of their customers, we charged them a small consulting fee and politely referred them to another website company.
Web sites that do not address the needs of the visitors who will be using them will not perform well.
With the basic understanding that the usability of the site is equally important as the look of the site, you will make better decisions about your online web presence.
What is Best – Form or Function?
Since your website should be built for your customers and not you, a good site should contain a balance of pleasing design and practical functionality.
As consumers, we have all been to sites that might look pretty at first glance, but quickly frustrate us when we can’t find what we need or things don’t work as they should.
A long load time waiting for that fancy slideshow to appear is a sure way to push customers away.
If I physically walk in to a local store and am confused by what I see, I won’t stay long. If the store is pleasant to be in and was designed with my needs in mind, I will want to stay, and will want to return again.
Your website is a virtual storefront and the same considerations you would make for your customers in a brick and mortar store should be taken with your online business presence.
Don’t neglect design for function and vice-versa. Instead, use a balance of the two and your site visitors will be pleased.