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Website Design

Do I need a website  designer, how hard can it be for people to design a site?

If you have seen, in the UK,  the heavily promoted television advert saying how easy it is to   design your own website,  you could be forgiven for thinking acquiring a website (or websites) or the process of website design for your fledgling business is going to be straightforward. Think again.

In addition if you believe that webiste design is the process of people ticking a few boxes, adding some copy onto a page as content and then inserting a few stock images into a pre-formatted page is designing a website you are very much mistaken if not delusional.  Basically all you are doing is ticking a box and that is not website design and you the user won’t get a great website design.
It’s actually not  easy as a user to get the whole process correct. Sorry but web design is not easy. Like anything else in life the quality of the result will be directly related to the quality of the input.
All that is being achieved is a transfer of money from the customers pocket to the providers. Yes the user gets a website design of indifferent quality but that is all.
The underlying premise, that  website design can be made easy for people with little or no skills in that area, is false. Making an activity thoughtless (in this case, ticking boxes to get a website design) produces poor results. Even the simplest of websites requires a degree of planning and forethought.
If designing websites  is so easy how come the Wikipedia definition is so complex?

So, regarding website design, web design or if you like designing for the web,  let’s take a brief look at some of the concerns a website designer is struggling with.
The classic problem for all web designers, it might not apply if they are designing tanks or combat aircraft, is achieving a balance between form and function.  In website design context, the way a site looks set against its content.  There are clearly cases where function has to come first, an aeroplane for instance or the previously mentioned tank, but with many things it is not so clear cut and this is definitely the case for websites.

Search engines are not looking for pretty websites they checkout relevant content  (it’s a bit more complicated than that but this article is about web design)  and people are searching for relevant content. For the web – content is king. Every page has to be designed properly for the user and have great content.  Customers, on the other hand, don’t want to checkout reams and reams of text while viewing websites. They want clearly presented solutions on an attractive site.

Designers of all types will argue for days over which is more important but I believe strongly that the key is balance. This is better for the user.

What use is the world’s most beautiful chair if people sit on it and it falls over? Equally the most comfortable chair in the world will not sell if it is ugly. If we analyse our purchasing decisions they are more often than not driven by a combination of wanting to satisfy a requirement at reasonable cost with something that looks good. OK I have just added a third parameter (cost)  but the basic tension between form and function will always come first. Cost as a component of the designer’s process is not always linked to the way people think.

On the web what type of site is being designed for the user? Is it a simple information site for people to checkout, a site selling a local service where the commissioner wants to increase business or a large retail site that requires a massive amount of input almost certainly from a team of designers?  Each of these parameters will have an effect on the thought process that leads to the final look of a site and indeed every single page.

Is the designer going to code each page from scratch?  If so they may be great coders but does that make them good designers? While designing websites are they going to work with a wysiwyg (What you see is what you get) program or are they going to use a Content Management System such as Joomla or Drupal or a blogging platform such as WordPress?

All of these choices will have an effect on the outcome – especially the outcome for the end user.  Some of these programs for the web take a great deal of time and effort to master and arguably the processes are so complicated that the technology has got in between the designer and the end product.

Next time you are on the web, perhaps on the Google Search Engine page – checkout plumbers (it could be anything you want) on any search engine and take a critical look at each page that comes up.  Once you have got past the third party directory services (do people using the Internet ever look at them?) and you get to sites of plumbers you will find all of the classic website design faults:

Too many messages shouting out from the home page, in other words lack of focus.
Poorly laid out pages trying to cram too much visual content in. When you scan some pages on the web there seems to be no logical order to the positioning of content. It’s almost as though some designers have forgotten that in the Western World we scan from left to right. Crucial bits of information are often hidden in some far reaches of a page in minute text. Yet Google research has shown that if your customers haven’t found what they are looking for within approximately eight seconds they are going to click to another site.

How many times have you seen rainbow colours on an Internet page.  Just because text can be a different colour doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. An overly liberal use of colours can be very distracting for people and tiring on the eyes. Some of the worst offenders are website designing companies. It has been known, and scientifically proven, that humans have measurably different responses to certain colours. Do people really want to see a site with a black background and everything bordered in sickly fluorescent greens and magentas? There are such sites out there.

I personally dislike stock images that you see a lot on the web. I think they are dishonest as they do not truly represent the site owner equally as bad they are lazy. It’s almost as though the designer or site owner has said “I can’t be bothered getting some photos of what I do to show my customers so I will use these stock images instead” Well if they can’t be bothered why should a customer? And then just think what the content is going to be like?

I’ve talked a lot about content but what about the very basic item of delivery, fonts?
There is a huge choice of fonts, they have all been designed with a specific purpose in mind but does it make any difference which font is used?  Well try reading this and you will get my point,  yes the choice of font is important.

Times New Roman was originally designed in 1931 for the Times Newspaper after complaints about the quality of the typesetting. Despite its lengthy heritage many newspapers today are still set in Times New Roman or slightly updated variations. Either because newspaper owners are lazy people  or because research has shown that articles set in Times New Roman can be read significantly faster than ones set in other typefaces.
Just as a point of interest monotype fonts (those where all letters are the same distance apart) are said to be better if the main concern is editing and for screen use, this is set in Courier a monotype font.

In addition to the choice of fonts there are many rules or suggestions on the best use of layout to make articles more readable.
So if you have read this far I would hope that you are beginning to see that Website design has a bit more to it than ticking a few boxes. Design and content are crucial.

Oh about that Wikipedia definition, here it is:
Website Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawing, business process, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns).[1] Design has different connotations in different fields (see design disciplines below). In some cases the direct construction of an object (as in pottery, engineering, management, cowboy coding and graphic design) is also considered as design.

More formally design has been defined as follows.

(noun) a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints;
(verb, transitive) to create a design, in an environment (where the designer operates)

Another definition for design is a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation. It defines the specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints in achieving that objective.

Here, a “specification” can be manifested as either a plan or a finished product, and “primitives” are the elements from which the design object is composed.

With such a broad denotation, there is no universal language or unifying institution for designers of all disciplines. This allows for many differing philosophies and approaches toward the subject (see Philosophies and studies of designing, below).

The person designing is called a designer, which is also a term used for people who work professionally in one of the various design areas, usually also specifying which area is being dealt with (such as a fashion designer, concept designer or web designer). A designer’s sequence of activities is called a designer’s process. The scientific study of design is called design science.

Designing often necessitates considering the aesthetic, functional, economic and sociopolitical dimensions of both the design object and process. It may involve considerable research, thought, modeling, interactive adjustment, and re-design.Meanwhile, diverse kinds of objects may be designed, including clothing, graphical user interfaces, skyscrapers, corporate identities, business processes and even methods of designing.

So that’s telling you


Peter Ibberson