Monthly Archives: May 2017

Design Puzzle on Front Page

Home page design isn’t just about headers, content, and footers. It is about asking the right questions and making sure those questions apply to your website visitors. It’s about finding solutions to problems and bringing it together within a cohesive design.

Have You Ever Wondered?

  • How do I make my website memorable?
  • How do I make sure people stick when they hit my home page?
  • How do I make sure website visitors dig into my content and explore my product or service offering?
  • How do I make sure website visitors take a moment to reach out to us by email, phone, or inquiry form?

If you read those questions and thought “yes that is exactly what I want to ask” then know you’re not alone. I know a lot of people, marketing departments, and companies who all wonder the same about the design and function of their website.

If you take a step back and read through the list, you’ll notice all the questions included I or me. None of them focused on the visitor.

Best Practice in Home Page Doesn’t Include Me or I

Best practice in home page design is about website visitors, their needs, and their wants.  It isn’t about an idea that is cool or something you may have seen on four other websites. It is about your target market, what they need, and how your offering can help.

We receive a number of inquiries each day from people who’d like us to help create a new website or update their existing website. In most cases the inquiries go a little like this:

  • I am inquiring to see if I can get a price for you to redo our current website. Please have a look at the link to website provided and get back to me.
  • We are considering upgrading our website. Are you able to help us?
  • I would like a website that looks exactly like XYZ.com. Can you create that for me?
  • I would like my website to be more professional, can you please help?
  • Can you look at my website and tell me what needs to change?
  • I know my website is a mess and I’d like you to clean it up.

A lot of individuals and organizations tend to design websites according to their own needs or they base it on a website they’ve visited and liked. Or, in more recent years, they think of a cool internet marketing idea and want to implement it.

All of this is fine, but what they many times fail to do is compare this idea or need for update to what their website visitors need and want. I’ve found this is especially true if the website is brand-new and the idea is referred to as “cool.”

Have You Ever Asked Yourself?

  • Who comes to my website?
  • Are these visitors all similar or are they broken up into groups (website personas)?
  • What problems do these people have and what issues are they trying to solve?
  • Can my product or service offering solve these problems?
  • What content do I have that can best articulate my solution and provide assistance?
  • What next step should the website visitor take so I can help solve their issues?
  • How can the visitor and I stay in touch with each other?
  • Can the visitor easily contact me?

What we’ve done is simply take the original questions and redirect them so they are more focused on the visitor. This task is easy, but many times overlooked.

Now take those above questions and apply them to your existing website. How does your website answer those questions? If it doesn’t, it is time for a refresh.

What Should You Consider in Your Website Refresh?

There are lots of elements that go into the core design of a website. I’m not talking about each and every page. Instead I’m referring to the main design elements, home page, header and footer.

Below is a list of some website design elements we review, discuss, and plan for in early stages of our projects:

Elements of a Website Header:

  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Social media icons and/or references
  • Search box
  • Primary navigation menu (core destinations)
  • Secondary navigation menu (secondary destinations such as account or login)

Elements of the Core Home Page:

  • Rotator or static image
  • Video
  • Site introduction or overview
  • Featured content
  • Persona call out and directions for movement
  • Call to actions
  • Promotions and/or deals
  • Recent blog posts
  • Upcoming events

Elements of a Website Footer:

  • Widgets for lists to core content
  • Contact information
  • Site navigation to sitemap, policies, terms and conditions
  • Disclaimers or legal notices
  • Copyright

That’s a lot stuff right? Yes it is and why I don’t expect new clients to have answers for all of the items in the list, it would be great if they’ve thought through some of it and how each would provide assistance for their target market and visitors.

If they haven’t, I’m happy to walk through it with them and dissect the different elements and how they can help provide solutions for visitors.

Web Design is a Puzzle

I recently had a friend tell me that I’m a fan of puzzles. I’ve never believed that to be the case, but once I thought about it for a minute, I knew he was spot on. I do like puzzles. Thinking back in time I remember spending endless hours with the Rubik’s Cube, Missing Link, and the Pyraminx Pyramid Puzzle. I solved all three and to the surprise of my parents, I mastered the Rubik’s Cube rather quickly.

As an adult I still like puzzles,  but now I like puzzles with a purpose.

I fell in love with SEO years ago because it was a puzzle. Trying to figure out what the search engines wanted and how it would alter ranking was fun. Google has become a lot more transparent, so the puzzle is no longer as challenging. As such, it has completely removed the fun factor for me.

My love for puzzles is now focused on website design. For me, the puzzle is understanding our client’s target market, their visitors’ needs, their offering, and then making it all come together through website design. That puzzle changes with each new client and each new website. It stays fun each and every time.

If you’d like me to help with your puzzle, just reach out to us and let us know how we can help.
We’ll start with a whole lot of questions and then we’ll put the pieces together as we design your new home page.

Exams and Tribulations Hiring Website Developers

Within 48 hours I had received three different pieces of communication from people speaking negatively about their website developers. Which is beyond frustrating since this is my profession and we’ve been working with WordPress development for over seven years.

Does a website design and development project really need to be filled with trials, tribulations, and ongoing angst? Can the process ever go smoothly and within the expectations set prior to money changing hands?

Yes it can, but these successes are never the stories we hear about.

My communication this week made me think of the phrase “trials and tribulations” and it took my back to Sunday school and listening to Bible verses from Corinthians or Romans. So much disappointment and struggles fills these project. Money is wasted, time lost, and sales disappear into thin air.

Think I’m being overly dramatic? Let me share some real-world comments received within the last two days.

Value Content first Before creating a Website Design

Website design should be crafted around the user, their needs, and the desired outcome of a website visit. It should be focused on the user’s challenges and the website’s ability to solve these issues.

It should not be focused on coding trends and prepackaged templates.

Design Trends Come and Go, But a Focus on the User Should Not

I’ll receive emails from people discussing their website design requirements and many times these lists will be focusing on specific project criteria like infinite scroll, hamburger menus, hero images, video backgrounds, and motion.

Rarely do people approach a design firm and present data based on their visitors, the user’s needs, and the ultimate goals of a website visit.

Website owners get caught up in design trends, their competitors’ websites, and what they believe is modern and current design elements. In doing so, they lose track of the actual website visitor.

All too often people select a website template or blog theme and get caught up in the graphical presentation or bells and whistles it offers. It’s an emotional buy that supersedes the desire to help the actual website visitors.

Once they buy the stock theme, they force their content to fit within the template’s available content blocks. Or worse yet, they force a custom design to adhere to the same style and presentation of a top competitor’s website.

In most cases this leads to disappointment and buyer’s remorse.

The reason this occurs is this process follows the path of purchase, design, development, and finally content. That path is in the wrong order. The process is going backwards and it leads to frustration.

Content First Leads to Educated Design Decisions

Documenting your desired user flow, visitor paths, and call to actions is something that is typically done after the graphic design is completed. Unfortunately that’s the wrong approach because it forces you into matching content to the website theme or design. It should be just the opposite.

Before you find yourself falling in love with a competitor website, coveting a stock WordPress template, or reaching out to a graphic designer, you need think through the goals and objectives of your website or blog.

You need to document your user personas, their individual challenges, your solution offering, and the paths you’d like these visitors to take within the website.

While graphic design in very important, it must take place at the right time within the project to truly allow you to showcases the website, content, and offering in the best light possible.

One of my favorite quotes on this subject is:

“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” – Jeffrey Zeldman

Messaging and content are the building blocks and foundation of the website. This means they should be carefully thought through and documented well before any colors, fonts, and layouts are considered.

The design elements should complement, highlight, and showcase the key messaging and most important content.

Focus on the Right Content

While I am saying you should have content written before beginning design, I’m not saying that you have to have all your content written. That would be a difficult task to accomplish for most website owners and businesses.

I encourage clients to focus on core website sections and pages. During the sales process I usually go through their website and look for areas I think would benefit from custom design templates. These will vary based on the client, industry, and target demographic.

Here are some common areas that can benefit most from a content first strategy:

  • Home
  • Main about or company page
  • Main services page and individual service pages
  • Main storefront and individual product pages
  • Resource section, categories, and/or resource items
  • Personas
  • Landing page templates
  • Main blog page and individual blog posts
  • Contact page

Sometimes I’ll suggest just a few custom design templates and other times I’ll suggest fifteen to twenty. It really depends on the complexity of the content and the variations in the content flow and call to actions.

As we progress into a project with a client, we like to have as much information as possible on core elements and how these might be altered based on different areas of the website.

Content elements that matter in a content before website design approach:

  • Headlines and subheaders
  • Core messaging
  • Paragraph text
  • User personas and visitor paths
  • Call to actions
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Navigation
  • Social media accounts
  • Search engine optimization

The more your graphic designer knows and has available, the more unique and targeted your design will become.

Finding Balance

Not all situations will allow a content before website design approach. You have to find balance and you have to pick and chose your battles.

If this approach is going to be difficult, I suggest starting with universal elements such as navigation, SEO, and call to actions. Then begin narrow down the focus by reviewing user personas and their visitors paths.

Focus on known elements and weave these into design by starting with the home page and then allow the design to build from his central hub. While moving through this process, stay focused on the visitor, what they need, and what action you ultimately want them to take.

The process can seem overwhelming, but like anything in life, you need to break it into chunks and evaluate the large list bit by bit.

Why do some web design designers let themselves go?

We like to keep our eyes out for new websites to ensure that we’re on top of the game, and far too often we see new websites being launched that are, putting it nicely, below par.

Yes there are home-built websites, or ones produced by web designers who don’t have the necessary skill sets, but there are others built by web agencies that, in our opinion, can do a lot better. It appears as if they have given up, or just gone through the process of doing the minimum required to get paid. But why wouldn’t they do a decent job?

When I started making websites back in the late nineties I loved it, and wanted to make every last pixel perfect. Even though by today’s standards the websites weren’t brilliant, I really took pride in what I did, and did my best.

Fast forward ten years to around 2007 and Webbed Feet wasn’t just me, it was a team, and we were doing things commercially. Many web and design agencies have issues keeping projects ‘on track’ and preventing them from overrunning, after all we’re all in business to make money. We were no different and had projects that actually lost us money, and urgently needed a strategy to make everything run to plan.

So we had discussions to rectify this, and there were the two obvious solutions; either put our prices up, or cut corners and reduce the quality of what we produce. Neither of these suited us, so we decided to change our processes to make things more efficient. These processes included scoping out and quoting projects in far more detail, having client sign-off stages during the build, changing how we develop websites, and not tendering for every project that we see. There’s a lot more to it than that of course, but we slowly but surely started keeping things profitable without reducing quality or drastically increasing our prices… it worked!

Fast forward another ten years, and we do still make mistakes when quoting, but are doing much better and have strict quality control procedures. If our team presented us with work of the same quality that we have seen other agencies produce recently, we’d have stern words with them and make them finish it properly. However, our team wouldn’t present that to us, nor would they let us launch it in that state. Why? Because all of our team have pride in their work, and we encourage them to do a good job.

So why don’t all other web design agencies do this? Why do so many launch websites of such a poor quality? Why have some capable web designers ‘let themselves go’?

We believe this is because of the lack of processes similar to those we have evolved over the years. Getting these in place has probably been the single hardest thing we’ve had to do in order to get quality websites launched at a cost-effective price.

We consciously made the decision not to release sub-standard work, even it meant years of work finding a way to do it. We believe some other agencies quite simply haven’t done this.

In order to turn a profit they turn to pre-built platforms such as Joomla orWordPress, buy and tweak a template, install a few plugins or modules, and cut and paste some content and stock images. That’s it, they’re not a creative agency striving to produce the best, they run an electronic production line churning out whatever they can.

That’s up to them of course, who are we to tell them how to run their business? But we feel for the clients. Yes some people choose to buy a cheap website, and that’s their prerogative, but others can often spend thousands of pounds in good faith on the back of a good salesman, and don’t get what they paid for. Even worse than that, what they are missing from their initial website needs to be retro-fitted by a competent web design agency and can end up costing the client more money in the long run.

This gives the good web design agencies a bad name (and there are a lot of these too) as it taints our industry.

If anyone is concerned about what they have had, or are having made, then don’t hesitate in picking up the phone and we’ll give you somehonest feedback.