Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Why There Is Such a Thing As Too Much Design

This weekend I'll be going to the annual Pleasanton Highland Games. It's a blast. The entire county fairgrounds turns into a spectacle of Celtic/Medieval celebration. Bagpipes, Celtic music, Scottish sports, animal shows, clan organizations, food food FOOD, and enough vendor booths to deck yourself from head to toe in period fashion.

I visited the website a couple days ago, because I wanted to see which events would be going on and what vendors will be there. From the Vendors page, I browsed around a couple sites to see what kinds of items will grace the booths this year. I found that many of the businesses had new products available, including some medieval leather garments that I may pick up.

Why am I mentioning all this? Because all the vendors' websites, and the Highland Games website itself, share a common characteristic. They're all quite, for lack of a better term, basic.

Center-framed pictures. No-frills HTML left-justified menus. Sometimes they even use frames (oh no, bad SEO!). Many of these vendor websites (especially the Games website) don't take advantage of 2006 web design methodologies.

And you know what?

Didn't matter to me. In fact, I appreciated it.


All of them had the information I wanted.

The Games website listed all their events, when they would take place and where they'd be held on a detailed grounds map. Each of the vendor's sites gave me pricing, some copy on each product's quality and what each could be used for. Some vendors even listed their sponsorship of the Games, and where they would be located on the grounds!

See, customers are forgiving on design if you have the information they want. Unless the design gets in their way of finding that information - which, let's face it, we've all seen happen once or twice. In which case they'll leave your site to get their information (and their products) elsewhere.

There IS such a thing as too much design. You reach that point when any customer finds themselves scratching their head, muttering to themselves, "How do I get around in here?" Good Web copy is designed to move the reader through the site in a specific progression, according to their specific informational need. When the design inhibits that progression, instead of complementing it, your structure is blocking your content.

Fortunately for us in 2006, the backend technologies like Web analytics will tell any webmaster exactly where their website might be tripping up their content. Anytime page views drop off for a certain area, but pick up after it or remain constant through other sections, you've either got poor copy or snarled design.

Test the copy first, since it's the easier of the two to modify on a webpage. If that's fine, it's the design.

The Web was designed, as we all know, with the intent to distribute information. That's what we want when we open Firefox or IE. We're willing to forgive a lot of snafus to get our info. But hey, we all have our limit. If you're any kind of business, focus on what really matters. Your site's design is there to present your information. That's all.



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