eCorner

eCorner
Secure eBusiness Solutions

Monday, 27 July 2009

Design vs Function -- the Web Dilemma

What is more important “Look and Feel” or “Functionality and Performance”?

Businesses large and small approach the establishment of their web presence from different aspects. Some businesses believe that the design is all important and without the right design the website will fail. Although this is not correct it is sometimes very difficult to convince the customer to have an open mind to the design possibilities.

Design is all about personal preference and not about capability. Almost all good web content and ecommerce applications treat design as a function of the application and not the centre point.

If you are representing a business with a budget then the first thing that you should look for is a functionally rich solution. It should be flexible to meet both feature and design requirements, it should be able to grow with your business and you should be able to manage it yourself. It should have the capability to easily change or incorporate new designs on the fly without expensive web designers or developers doing the work.

At the end of the day every website exists to sell something.

Ever visited a website that has been built using lots of flash that runs an intro movie before you enter and does all sorts of stuff as you move the cursor around? 

Was it a pleasing experience?

Mostly the answer we get is no…

This type of Flash based website may look great but in general after you see it for the first time your over it. Some of these websites will not even load inside many companies secured networks. If you are on a slower broadband connection it may be slow and clunky.

I am not against Flash in web development as long as it is not overdone and used for a reason.

Unfortunately there are web designers out there that will not think about the long term requirements and functionality when building a website design. A good designer will think about function first and try to determine user requirements. When undertaking a new web project design should be part of the requirements and not visa versa.

If you want to think about your business from a business perspective then think of your web presence as another vehicle or sales channel to move your products.

When you go buy a delivery van for your business you do not buy it from the sign-writer because they have a nice design idea. You buy the vehicle based on your business needs and its cost effectiveness, functionality and performance. After you get the right tool for the job then you send it along to the painter to add your companies design scheme.

All too often we are asked to add functionality to an existing website that has been created around a design idea and not based on functional needs. Although this can be done it is never the best solution and will long term cost more money to maintain. Very often it is more cost effective to start from scratch.

Form follows Function - Bauhaus

In the 1920 the Bauhaus school, initially based in Weimar and Dessau Germany, launched the Modern movement in both design and architecture. Principles of modern design promote the concept that “form follows function” basically means that any object (building , chair, cup or shoe) needs to be fit for the purpose for which it was built to have a truly brilliant design. You can build a remarkable looking building but if it cannot be occupied and the space used efficiently then it is a bad design. It is true also with your website.

When thinking about your website or webshop then consider what it will be used for and what is the main reason that people will visit. All too often website owners want websites created around their personal preferences and not those of the potential visitor. Generally the website owner understand their business and product very well whereas a visitors (and buyer) will be searching for the product and may not be an expert or understand the product at all. So the perspective of the website has to be slanted towards the visitor.
One good idea is to ask some potential customers what they like and don’t like. Websites need to be clean and efficient and not difficult to use and navigate. Remember the usefulness of a good design is in the ability to use the functionality.

If you are building a web shop to sell your products then there will be some essential functionality that you will need. These capabilities or features need to be easily found on the website for it to be effective and successful.

Some Required Functionality

 
Product focussed home page – meaning that you can find products to buy on the home page.

  • Product search and advanced search
  • Category navigation and product browse 
  • Product detail page(s) 
  • Cross sell and up-sell 
  • Customer login and My Account 
  • Shopping cart and check out 
  • Newsletters (marketing capabilities) 
  • Important information (T&Cs, privacy, copyright etc) 
  • Contact form and contact us

Embodied within the website and design there needs to search engine optimised (SEO) and friendly content. Website built entirely in Flash are not always search engine friendly and often search engines cannot see into the content. The same is true of websites that are built using frames.

Websites with lots of imagery and no text content, similarly, may not be very search engine friendly. Search engines look for content that contains keywords as well as Meta tags and other content tags to work out what your website is all about. Think also of the visually impaired who cannot see the images and rely on a screen reader.

How do visitors browse?

When a potential buyer gets to your website you have just a few seconds to engage them or they will browse away. Visitors will scan top left to right and down much the same way as when reading page. This does change based on international language and format; some people read from right to left. But if you’re setting up a web shop to sell in Australia then the bulk of visitors will think left to right.

So it is important that the visitors experience is not hampered by lots of stuff happening on the website. The visitor expects immediate gratification and in most circumstances will not scroll down the page so the important sales message needs to appear above the “fold” or where the visible part of the website stops on the screen.

The visitor to your web shop, if engaged, will look further but you have only a few seconds to get that engagement.

When you are selling online every product page is important. A good web shop will be built so that every product, category and content page can be separately crawled and found by search engines. Product and content pages appearing inside frames may not be crawled. So if your potential buyer is looking for a Blue Widget and you sell a Blue Widget you want them to be taken directly to the Blue Widget page from the search engine. Once there they need to see enough information to understand your unique selling proposition. 

A successful product page should contain:
 
  • Good quality image of the product with link to larger view 
  • Short and long descriptions with features and capabilities 
  • Any special attributes such as size and colour 
  • Price and any special offers 
  • Add to shopping basket link 
  • Accessories or up-sell productsLink for product handbook or detail information if necessary

Website Design Conundrum


After reading this I am sure that I will receive some hate mail from people who believe that they are web designers protecting their turf. Well all I can really say is that it is the website owner and operator that need protection. Websites that are built primarily with design in mind are very often difficult to maintain and may need always to be maintained by the designer. We have seen this time and again.

The principles that we think are important are:

  1. The web site (or shop) should be functional and accessible 
  2. That design should not constrain the use or functionality 
  3. The design should be search engine friendly 
  4. The website content should be manageable by the website owner
  5. The design should be easily managed and changed
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