|Better design practices|
which design is better?
I thought I'd ask for a little help from my fellow web design gurus. I work at a large institution, and my job is constantly coming under fire from people who seem to think they know more than I do about design. What this means is that I periodically need to defend my design decisions. It's difficult to keep all of the departments unified; one of them is always threatening to "break away" and do their own thing. What's tough is trying to convince the head of that department that what they think is a better design is actually a dog's breakfast.
I am hoping maybe a few of you guys can help me create a list of what makes for a good design, and comment on the difference between two sites (my apologies if this is not the place to do this - I couldn't seem to get in to the "site review" thread).
My personal feeling is that the homepage shouldn't overwhelm the user with tons of info; it should load quickly, and have clear and simple navigation. I need to design my site with the end users in mind - simple templates for the lay-person to edit using a WYSIWYG editor (I use Contribute for my users).
Any info you could give me about why one is better than the other would be much appreciated.
[edited by: phranque at 2:06 pm (utc) on Jan. 18, 2008]
[edit reason] no URLs [/edit]
Well, you can't post links here. But regardless, this is always a sticky problem - because design is so subjective. I've had clients decide one design even when faced with negative feedback from focus groups, etc. - just because they prefer the other design. I'm not really sure any way around it.
how about STARTING with usability...
if you can boldly say "it's not really up to you [the boss] rather the results of usability testing... starting with a user centric design is starting out properly"
Sorry about the links - it had been awhile since I was here last, and I didn't realize I couldn't post the links.
Thanks for the posts. The tricky thing is that in an academic environment, one often finds that - very much a military structure - the hierarchy can get in the way of common sense. In other words, they hire a web designer, who is supposed to be the expert. He/she designs the site after getting a focus group of students, staff, and faculty representing each of the 10 departments. The academic, who knows all, doesn't care that that design represents the wishes of the focus group - they don't like it, and they know best. They say the design is dated, it's boring, they hate it. It must be changed to what they like. And they give examples, all of which I think look like a dog's breakfast.
So - I guess I'm kinda at a point where I'm questioning my own sense of style and design decisions. I'd like to point to 'best practices' or 'rules for good design' from my fellow designers to validate my decisions. I know I can't please everyone, because design is so subjective. But it would be nice to have some serious web gurus (like the ones who visit this site) tell me "Yes, your site rocks'...or, for that matter, 'No, your site sucks.'
Having said all that - how do you feel about the growing trend to throw everything and the kitchen sink on the homepage (in a newspaper-like manner: several columns, scrolls quite a way, etc)? This is what I'm being pressured to do - but I just don't think it has any style. My designs don't usually scroll on the homepage...
Crow_Song, if it's an academic environment, then back up your position with academic data, information and studies. Scour Jakob Nielsen's writings, and in particular, as mentioned, research for authoritative writings on usability and the effects of download time. In addition, find the sites out there who have done extensive research studies - in particular, eye-tracking studies.
Chances are that your ideas are being countered by subjective opinions of others on what "good design" is, and those may or may or not match up with what's concluded by actual real-world studies by specialized professional experts in the field, who get often get paid a lot of money for their expertise.
It may be an academic environment, but exactly the same principles will apply as those in a commercial marketing environment.
|So - I guess I'm kinda at a point where I'm questioning my own sense of style and design decisions. |
Web design is like music appreciation in the way that people tend to have strong opinions. But you're supposed to be the expert, right? While is your job to solicit feedback, the people who hired you should also trust your judgment. Stick to your guns if you think you're right, but keep an open mind, too. Check out some books on user-centered design concepts if you need ways to back up your design decisions.
|Having said all that - how do you feel about the growing trend to throw everything and the kitchen sink on the homepage (in a newspaper-like manner: several columns, scrolls quite a way, etc)? This is what I'm being pressured to do - but I just don't think it has any style. |
It can either look vibrant, or it can look like a mess. It's subjective. I think there are ways you can pack a lot into a layout, but then the question becomes how much of it is truly necessary? The answer will depend on your particular application.
|My designs don't usually scroll on the homepage... |
Because of blogs, people are more used to scrolling now, so above the fold is not as big a deal as it used to be.
We've been tracking pages using Clicktale, and our observation is that while people *do* scroll down, they don't necessarily scroll far and they spend much less time looking at the lower portions of the page than the top section.
Usually, they immediately scroll down to get the masthead area out of the way, but they focus most of their attention on the section of the page that fills their browser frame when the masthead is out of the way.
|So - I guess I'm kinda at a point where I'm questioning my own sense of style and design decisions. I'd like to point to 'best practices' or 'rules for good design' from my fellow designers to validate my decisions. |
I have also worked with edu's. They brought me a sketch. I emulated it perfectly (against better judgment.) When they saw it in action, they hated it and went with the most awful design possible - from someone else. They didn't even ask me to come up with something. Someone at the college heard "hey Mr. BushyTail is a great designer, use him!" So here I was tasked with developing an entire site around Mr. BushyTail's crappy design, knowing the whole time it totally sucked.
A bit humbling, isn't it?
The real question here is, how much energy do you waste defending your position? You can write a thesis on it proving your position, but the bottom line is still this: those who have the gold make the rules. They will thank you for your input and do what they want anyway.
This business is going to drive you batty if you stick to your guns on these issues. You're going to encounter this problem again and again, and come to the same conclusion: so **this** is why a perfectly experienced designer builds such crappy web sites!
Perfect examples are web sites that **only** work well at a specific resolution or browser - which is very likely the conditions the customer sees.
I have literally hundreds of sites out there, I would be ashamed to say I designed or developed most of them. Why? Because the concept was so strongly controlled by the client it goes completely against everything I know to be true.
So best design practices? Design for accessibility, design for usability, put everything you know into it and justify your decisions to the client - ONCE. Then let it go. The real decision to be made is whether or not you want a credit on the page connecting you with the project.
There is a psychology behind getting your own way while making the client feel good.
Bull-#*$! always baffles brains.
Take their horrible design and say it's interesting and has huge potential. Suggest improvements that make obvious sense to establish your design authority and abilities. An extension of their great ideas and designs.
Use stats that have big headlines such as "did you know that the "skip intro" button is the most clicked button on internet? research suggests that flash intro's are not only annoying, but they put yet one more step between your visitor and your marketing messages."
Obviously thats an over the top example of how to deter clients from the (for whatever reason) love for a flash intro.
Constantly reaffirm usability ... and the need for ongoing modification to better achieve business objectives...
And sometimes nothing will work.
Wow - great replies. I really appreciate the suggestions!