Why Go To A Website?

I wanted to talked today about an important question when designing/building a website, or anything really, Why?  Why would someone use this website?  A really simple question that can get lost very quickly.

I bring this up, because it recently happened to me.  I needed a re-design for a popular website I work on.  The current design was over a year old and very basic.  I wanted to build something new, something modern, something that used all the new web technologies I read about.  I quickly got lost in feature creep.

It was easy to think of cool things I could add to the site.  I soon had a feature filled site that was a pain to use.   There was plenty of ajax, javascript and jquery, HTML5, CSS3, and sharing links for every social network you could want.  Things that allowed the user to do everything they could want, but quickly drowned the main focus of the site.

I had to step back and ask myself, “would I use this site?”  The answer was No.  The original site became a success on simplicity.  It was easy to use and easy to navigate.  That is what I should have been building on.

After this brief insight, I quickly began taking out the meaningless features and returned to accentuating the core functions of the website.  Pick one thing your site does.  Every feature you add from there should aid the main focus of the site.

The new design needed to be about what users already do on the site, and make those functions even easier.

Here are some tips to avoid the trap I fell into next time you’re building a site.

  • Know your users. If this is a redesign, use your existing site analytics data to figure out what users are actually doing on the site (If you don’t have some form of web analytics on your site already, you should).  And figure out what is popular and what isn’t.  If this is a new site, imagine what you’re ideal experience on the site looks like.  What is it you want people doing on the site?
  • Limit the Social Networks. This ties into knowing your users.  You don’t need a share button for every social network out there.  Know which ones your visitors actually use and make them obvious.  Don’t flood your pages with links to every social network you can throw in there.
  • Don’t duplicate functionality. If there is already a button on the page to do something, don’t make another just because you can.  One button will do the job better.  More will just become confusing.
  • Make your actions/links clear. If you want a user to click on something, make it obvious that it is a link.  You don’t need flashing pop-ups everywhere, but let the user know its something they should be clicking.  A little animation or a simple hover effect can go a long way.
  • Use white space, not wasted space. White space or negative space is great in designs.  It can really be used to create a minimalist look, but think twice when you are spacing things out.  Don’t make the users scroll and search all over the site to find things.  An overly spread out design is a pain to use.

So there is my two cents on the subject of website design.  Hopefully this will help you avoid getting stuck in the design limbo I was in, and design the right site from the start.

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