Design is about more than just making things look nice and pretty, it is about functionality, usability, accessibility, and more. In short; it is about making things fit for purpose, and nowhere are there more stark contrasts of good and bad design than on the World Wide Web.
In order to discover whether a site is ’fit for purpose’ certain questions need to be asked, such as: Is a website easy to use? Can you find the information you were seeking easily? Can the site be found by search engines? Is the site accessible to people with vision impairment? can the size of the text be made smaller or larger? Is it clear to viewers with colour blindness? Can the site be easily navigated using screen reader software? All of these things, and more, have to be taken into consideration when designing for the Web - and this is especially important for a business presence on-line where issues such as accessibility are not only a good idea, but nowadays a legal responsibility.
Publishing on the Web is a fairly simple process and seems to be getting easier by the day as ever more improvements are made to WYSIWYG and on-line editors. However, there is much evidence of ’bad’ design seen on a myriad of web pages; many of them featuring cyan text on yellow backgrounds, and an abundance of animated gifs and flashing, scrolling, blinking text in all fonts, sizes, colours and styles - the eyes hurt and the head aches when confronted with such examples! Being able to put the pages of a Website together with a WYSIWYG editor like Frontpage or Dreamweaver does not make a person a web designer.
Not that Microsoft or Adobe would want that fact to become common knowledge for fear of losing sales of their high end software to amateur designers. But it is not just the glaringly obvious tacky bad taste sites that are at fault.
How many times have we seen an absolutely gorgeous, good enough to eat almost, Flash based website that looks fantastic but is difficult or almost impossible to use? I know I have, many many times! Where is the navigation? Why does it take ages for the pages to load? Why can’t I find the information I need? Why is the text on the page so small? And so on... The point is that it seems that in examples like the above, the ’designer’ has ignored basic functionality in favour of trying to make the pages look ’cool’ - and that is not design at all.
So it can be seen that the merits of good Web design encompass both the practical and the aesthetic. Yes, we want to make our sites look good (’cool’ even); but we also need to ensure that they are visible and easy to use for everybody. To overlook these basic considerations would be irresponsible and perhaps even disastrous for the long term future of the Website. So; is your Website well designed or just cool? Tony Williams is the author of Web Traffic in Black & White, the guide that unlocks the secrets of Web traffic. Check it out at http://webtraffic.tdlwebs.com