Just like it is no longer good enough to say that you want to build a website because everybody else is, whether it be for yourself or your multi-national corporate employer. It is no longer good enough to leave the design and appearance of the site as an afterthought. The success or failure of any online venture depends on its design. A website is not solely about technology and the environment that spawned it. It is about how that technology – both software and hardware – is put to use.
As ideas and businesses have spawned, thrived, and of course, in many cases failed on the internet over the last few years, the appreciation of design and a clarity of purpose as central to the success or otherwise of any new media venture has grown. The design of a website is integral to fulfilling its ambitions successfully. The continued simplicity of Amazon’s home page has contributed immensely to the e-tailer’s global success. Sites built around content and ‘stickiness’, or the ability to retain users’ attention, can only succeed if the design facilitates their aims and allows the user to fulfil those aims with clear instructions or instinctive operation.
The failure of dotcoms like the highly ambitious global sportswear e-tailer boo.com was due in no small part to the design and layout of the site and reliance of that design on unreliable technology and software. The delivery failed to live up to the promise of the appearance.
Simplicity is not a prerequisite for every type of online design, of course. After all, having the best levels of customer service in the world and a superslick fulfilment operation can only be effective if customers are engaged by the site in the first place – and different users look for different things.
Not only should a website developer bear the needs of the audience in mind, but also what the objective of the site is. Also those websites that have endured or are entering the market for the first time now, are finding that a new breed of user – which is getting more sophisticated as it understands more about a maturing medium – has different expectations and different demands. In that case, design needs to be enduring but flexible.
Certainly, first impressions do last, and the hard-to-find and obscure ‘ Buy Now’ button has put off many first time purchasers. Let alone, the negative effect that an annoying virtual shopping assistant that refuses to load onto users ‘ screens properly can have.
The online world is effectively a self-service place where the customer can easily leave his or her trolley in the aisle on the way to the checkout at any stage without the embarrassment of walking out of a shop mid-way through a transaction. Online snobbery will never cut it – the retailer or marketer or any other form of online media owner must make each and every visitor feel welcome so that those valuable eyeballs come back soon to look or buy – or whatever you want them to do – on your site.
So ease of use is paramount and the rise and rise of the appreciation of online design disciplines like usability and their role in the development process of a site only underlines the fact. The case of universal access – most obviously taking into account the needs of the blind and partially sighted – is another factor. Particularly now that a range of countries and communities like the EU have taken steps to make this a regulatory issue.
First impressions count, but, of course, they are only a part of the story. Designers should take into account where they want their website users and viewers to go next. And whether they want them to return.
This spreads into the marketing arena as marketeers have become more and more keen to exploit digital channels as medium to bring potential customers and visitors back to their online businesses. This does not preclude the use of offline advertising, in the broadcast, print and outdoor arenas – as some of the most successful companies have found out by running truly integrated marketing initiatives.
Online marketing tactics and ideas which have become accepted range from affiliate marketing relationships to the more straightforward specialism of internet advertising and the range of formats offered by online media-owners.
From the basic banner-ad to the more complex rich-media formats such as Superstitial adverts, advertising creative has been asked to do more and pushed further to make an impact and this has given designers even more challenges. Concepts such as viral marketing have thrived online as the idea of selling an idea by word-of-mouth has proved more cost-effective than traditional marketing concepts when exploited by a range of brands and online businesses. Again, the best of such executions place new and specific demands on the designer.
The fastest-growing medium history continues to evolve: the pace of change is bewildering. But the best of the new breed of online businesses, brand owners and web designers are adapting to those changes, using a variety of techniques from the visual to the commercial to ensure that users still visit, enjoy and return to their sites.