When you design any kind of housing body and internal components, which do you design first? Do you design the shell and then the materials that the shell is meant to house, or do you design the contents and then structure the shell to suit the contents’ dimensions? Would anyone design a product package before designing the product? Maybe, but someone also approved the filming of “The Lone Ranger,” so there is really no accounting for people’s judgment.
Although we are web guys by trade, even we have to admit that we don’t really want to visit websites for any reason other than to gather information. We don’t particularly care for cuteness; we don’t want our minds blown by Flash intros. If your website was conceived for the look and not to suit the content you propose then your website is serving neither you nor your public.
When it comes to web design, the nature and the type of content really must be determined before any concrete decisions should be made about web design. Having a supafly website without any regard for the information it is meant to house is just a waste of fancy graphics and futuristic interface. After all, no one who isn’t a web designer visits a website just to enjoy the unusually composed menu bar.
What kind of content will I need?
Do you envision people visiting your website for particular services, products or information? Of course you do — there is literally no other reason for anyone to visit a site. Whatever it is your enterprise is meant to offer, your website must provide a way for the user to access the pertinent information quickly and efficiently. Your content, be it blogs, articles or video streaming has to be presented in a way that satisfies the user. Blogs have to be clear and readable; products have to be clearly defined, categorized and presented; business information has to be locatable by a prominent menu bar. Supplementary items that are meant to subtly impress the viewer or make him/her think that you are some sort of web design god do not add value to your site. How little value do amazing graphics and effects have? So little, in fact, that they virtually never factor into a user’s overall good impression of your site. Conversely, horrible graphics and other distracting elements only serve to devalue your site and your brand in the user’s eyes.
Keeping your menu bar descriptors specific is crucial to easy navigability. The information at the top is your introduction to your users; what your service offers, who you are, etc. The grouping of your content elements is another make or break feature – all of your categories have to be relevant to one another in order to optimize search. Also, feel free to link to other pages if the volume of information is overwhelming; it’s far easier for a user to simply click on the most specific information than to have to scroll down page after page of content.
Designing a content-central website
Website templates that force you to inelegantly cram content into predetermined spaces make it very difficult to adjust to changing content demands. Furthermore, when you design the site around the content you propose, you eliminate unprofessional and unpleasing layout issues, like images not fitting the space and text dropping down into inappropriate frames. The PBS website for the American Masters series is a primo example of unsuitable website template use. The content descriptions don’t fit their designated spaces, and they’re either obscured by the lower cells, or the paragraphs drop down below the assigned frame. C’mon, PBS — you’re better than this. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of web design — heck, some of the most influential and famous brands have had absolutely terrible websites. But another organization’s lack of savvy shouldn’t influence your choices. Your content is the most important part of your web design strategy; don’t sacrifice it to the gods of elaborate web design mania.