09.05.2016 by Jon
A similar thing has been happening with website design. You can hardly have failed to notice the way that many new websites are very alike in their layout and structure. The reason for this is that web designers are applying the principles of UX (User Experience) to design, making sure that usability is central, and web visitors are intuitively guided to the information they’re looking for. Important stuff then, but UX design can result in sites having a somewhat homogenised look about them.
Back to the example of auto design – even though some would argue that usability and practicality considerations have bred out much of the character of cars, many brands still manage to find ways to differentiate their models from competitors. With websites too, it’s possible to follow UX rules and still stand out. Here are a few things to think about:
Your website homepage is often the first encounter a customer will have with your brand. It needs to let them know instantly that they’re in the right place. Your key messages need to leap off the page – uncluttered by anything likely to distract. There will be plenty of areas where you’ll be able to go into the detail on what you’re promoting, but your homepage is not the place. Visitors will be clicking off and moving on to competitor sites within a few seconds if you don’t grab them with both hands and shout out clearly how you can help them.
You may have a number of product or service areas you want to communicate. Organise them by giving priority to those things you want to promote most and set them under a single, strong message that overarches them all. In just the same way you might navigate a magazine or newspaper, it’s the headline that will get your attention first and keep you on the page, and the sub-headlines that will help you find your way around.
We’ve said it plenty of times before, but we’ll say it again – less can definitely be more. Don’t be afraid of leaving space, used creatively, it’s a powerful tool to help focus visitors on what’s important.
Tons of text on your homepage is a guaranteed turn off. Words need to be kept to a minimum and those you do use have to work as hard as possible. Use catchy headlines that make a visitor want to find out more. Remember, you’re not selling your product – you’re selling its benefits – your visitor is unlikely to be interested in the minutiae of how it works – just how it’s going to make their lives better!
We all know that information and emotions are more quickly conveyed by images than they are by words, so those you use on your homepage have a vital job to do in making your visitors stay and explore further. Using ‘sliding’ or rotating imagery is a good way to increase engagement, as are infographics and video clips.
A fundamental principle of UX web design is intuitive navigation. The best websites are those where, as a visitor you’re not even aware that you are being subtly guided towards the information you’re seeking.
As mentioned earlier, visitors have an expectation that they’ll feel familiar with a website from the moment they land on it, and for this reason it makes sense to resist any temptation to be too clever or different. Don’t for example deviate too far from what has become the standard layout for a home page structure or use unusual menu headings, as you’ll probably only succeed in disorientating your visitor. Make sure navigation menus are in the same position and follow the same format on each page.
Most of the factors that contribute to a good user experience will not be noticeable to your visitors, but creating your own set of unique icons can set your site apart from others and improve your UX. Icons can be a highly effective navigation tool, providing instant recognition so visitors know where they will be directed without even having to read text. They can become a recognisable extension of your branding to use in other places both online and offline.
The goal of most websites will be to engage the visitor and motivate them to take action – usually to pick up the phone and get in touch. Copy, therefore, needs to strike a balance. There needs to be enough to get the reader interested and let them know they’re in the right place, but not so much they feel overwhelmed. Overlong blocks of text should be avoided, and pages broken up with headlines and bullet points which can be scanned quickly for relevance.
Even though your aim will be to keep copy short and sharp, the words you do use have an important part to play in helping set you apart and need to be carefully selected. Good, creative copy has the power to engage, to convey the personality and values of your business – and crucially, to persuade the reader to take action.