Sorting out website design philosophy

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Imagine you are in a meeting with a group of 10 website professionals. Now ask the group to describe the right way to design a website. Did you get 10 different answers to your question?

Any website owner who has worked with design companies may well have been confronted with this situation. One design company recommends building an SEO website. Another company says only a fully animated, Flash™-based website will do.

Why does this happen?

Well, website professionals are not exactly a homogenous group. People operating in the website space come from various backgrounds. For example, you may encounter website professionals with backgrounds in any of:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) / Internet Marketing
  • Visual Design / Graphic Arts
  • Software Development
  • Usability and User Experience Design

It is not surprising then, that various schools of thought about website design exist. And, when people are trained in a particular field, they also tend to look for solutions within their area of specialty. For example, a graphic artist attempts to solve a design challenge by producing more/better/different graphics. A web developer attempts to solve a design challenge by adding more functionality and more controls. And so on.

It is natural for people to rely on more familiar skill sets when they design. Problems emerge, however, when designs cater only to one school of thought. If one aspect of design gets taken to the extreme, usually the other aspects are short-changed, and the results end up more negative than positive.

Going to extremes

Examples of this abound. Recently I sat in on a webinar about the use of video in websites. In addition to sharing video tips and tricks, the webinar speaker shared his conviction that websites should be entirely video-based, and that video-based websites were always the most successful websites.

I thought, “Whoa! Hold on there a minute!” I am pretty confident that if you consulted other website professionals, they would raise some objections.

  • An SEO professional would likely point out that search engines can’t index video, and so if you care about placement in organic search engine results, you need text on websites, not just video.
  • A developer might indicate that video has a negative impact on website performance, whereas text files are small and quick-to-load.
  • A usability specialist might say that people have limited short-term memories, and won’t be able to remember everything that is said orally. So important content needs to be in text form, too, so that the material can be read, reread, and printed for later reference.

Achieving balance

So what is the solution? Well, I would say that successful website design does not rely on one single field of expertise or philosophy. Rather, good design springs from a holistic approach, which incorporates elements of SEO, visual design, sound development and usability.

The trick is achieving the right balance between the different – and often competing – elements that make up a website. Design always involves trade-offs and conflicting objectives do occur.

Choosing a design company that has a broader-based design philosophy is more likely to get you a well-rounded, balanced website solution.

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