One of the most critical steps in creating a new web site is the design phase. Many people skip this phase entirely, and it’s easy to tell when you look at their site. The signs are everywhere and easy to see: site difficult to navigate, purpose of site difficult to discern, too many graphics and not enough text, bad colors, and other obvious errors.
Designing a web site is easy. Sit down at a table with a stack of paper in front of you and think. Just think for a while. What is the purpose of your site? What do you want a visitor to do? Buy something? Send you emails? Join an association? Whatever your purpose, that’s what your site should be designed around.
If you want your visitor to purchase something, then you must make it easy and convenient. Everything must flow to the purchase, and nothing must stand in the way. If you want them to join your association, then flow your site to that.
Now, get your stack of paper and a pencil and storyboard your site. Draw it out, just like you were designing a house. Design each page, paying particular attention to navigation, color schemes and, again, tying it all in with your primary purpose.
When you have your entire site drawn out on paper, sit back and look at it for a while. Go for a long walk. Go to sleep. Do something else for a while. Then come back and look at it again, paying particular attention, yet again, to ensuring it is tied to your purpose and that the navigation works.
Some rules to follow:
- ALWAYS link back to your home page. Remember other web sites may link anywhere, and you want to give your visitor a way back to the rest of the site no matter where he lands. This is critical.
- Put a button on every single page which allows your visitors to send you an email. A form is better than going to the email program because you have more control of the format and what questions you can ask. (Remember though, you MUST answer your emails if you allow visitors to send them).
- Make sure your color scheme works. You don’t want to hurt your visitor’s eyes.
- Pay attention to load times. Don’t include big graphics, or if you must then thumbnail them to be kind to your less patient visitors.
- Stay legal – don’t steal images, text or bandwidth.
- Stick to the point. You want your visitor to do something – don’t wander around or you may lose him.
- Design for search engines. Include meta-tags, ALT tags on images and you MUST be sure to include a descriptive title.