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I have always used the rules of good web site design. The site is very easy to navigate, has a pleasing choice of layout, and I have recieved complements on it. It ranks well in the search engine, and only uses graphics where it is neccesary (ie mostly product images).
The problem is, time has gone by and now what was OK in 1998, now looks kind of amateurish.
Most sites now have excessive graphics, due to making text into graphics for layout and graphic design. They look pretty, but the spiders hate them. Hyperlinks are no longer outlined, and there is a heavy use of scripting. But they look profesional.
The question is, does consumers really care that a site has that polished, but slower to load look or do they only care about easy navigation, and fast loading.
Im happy with my 1998 style, it does the trick, but im always wondering if somebody is saying, "This site looks a little amateurish, I do not feel like buying"
I wonder where profesional feel and latest style ranks on the consumers top 10 list for deciding to vist or stay on a website.
On the other hand, I think design and speed preferences depend a lot on the age of your visitors and their connection speed, as well as the purpose of the site.
Look at Drudge Report vs. ESPN vs. name-that-gamer-site. Each site get lots of traffic, but they all have different purposes. Folks going to Drudge Report want news and they want it FAST. They don't care about fancy programming, or the latest Flash design. ESPN users want excitement. They want things to happen fast, but they want it to draw them in and involve them. Gamers usually have high-speed connections, so they want every bell and whistle there is coming at them all at once.
You've got to look at who is coming to the site to decide if the design is going to work to draw people in, or send them running in the other direction.
Excite went portal in 98 and slowly built up their home page in to this gaint thing. Again very visually appealing, and they've not been heard from since.
Infoseek had a great low key home page, and then were bought out by Go.com that cranked open the floodgates of page designers. They closed the doors on theirs just a short 20 months later.
Lycos redesigned their homepage about 9 months ago in to a stuning and well structured homepage template that could win design awards. Their stats have been stair stepping downard ever since.
Hotbot was the 'hot' engine in 98. Then they put up that over blown dayglo green template that just screamed "go away if you aren't 13 years old" and their fortunes have been going down hill every since.
Goto.com had killer branding on that green logo - they even defended with a suit against Go.com. Then they changed the name and went with the overpowering homepage that is stunning but over designed and technically challenged by 3rd party browsers - their fortunes have been stairstepping downwards too.
There are many reasons for the above including the dot com slow down, the drying up of vc money, and sites running out of initial vc money, but I think there is a pattern. It is simply the more over designed you make your page, the higher the likelyhood that you won't be around in a couple over years.
Think about some of the sites you use daily. Why do you use them? Why are there some you go back to only when you run into your bookmark for them by accident? Don't those sites have good, informative and worthwhile content? In many cases, I'd bet your once-in-a-blue-moon sites have better content than your daily sites and you visit the dailies because they are fast loading and easy on the eyes to read.
Overblown, low white space, graphically appealing, slow downloading pages encourage people to say, hey wow, cool page and shower the designer with compliments. Unfortunatly, they won't be back for a month and instead visit the fast loading easy to read site down the street.
>1998, now looks kind of amateurish.
Or retro cool like Google or tech wise like AllTheWeb.
>do not feel like buying.
Jazz it up, but do it in a very subtle manner so that the main focus of the page remains on the content or purpose of the page. Everything else on the page takes away from that purpose. Use some very fine graphics to emphasize certain points and draw their eye next to the page 'money' points. You can do a lot with simple colored text, or tables that break up the page into logical 'boxes' or as I call them to click or not to click decision points.
Try checking out this thread [webmasterworld.com]. It may give you some ideas about different colors you could use to give your site a small face lift, without going overboard.
It is your market, and your clients/customers who dictate what is beneficial to them.
My personal opinion, is that I'd rather have a fast loading site that is well organized, and knows how to present it self to meet my potential needs.
Than a site that takes too long to load, unclear naviagation. Now professional web design firms, may be able to sell and make those designs work. But the companies that use that style, how many of them are that successful?
Look at google, people come to it for a specific need. So if you understand that need, you don't overcomplicate or add too many barriers to customers getting what they want.
We all want people to keep surfing all over the site, but that's not what customers want. If it's a good site, with good content/products/services they will surf, but it can not be forced upon them.
If it works, use it, if not, find something that is usable by the people you want to sell to.
If you have the time why not try a series of redesigns based upon your site stats, that will give you (over a period of time) a good insight into what works (from your end user perspective) and conversely what does not.
About 12 months ago I switched from designing as a web designer to designing from an end user POV and working with site stats (something I should have done along time ago) and although the theory is the same it certainly makes a big difference to aspects like the interface, how much load time you are prepared to allow, using CSS instead of graphics wherever possible, having to dump Flash…
One of the main areas I try to concentrate on is the exit pages, i.e. if a page is obviously turning people of, why? So far, the results have been good, visitors staying for 2 – 3 times longer and viewing 100% more material than previously.
The only thing I worry about slightly is taking this "template" which i am seeing in very content rich sites (news etc) and then applying it to e-commerce sites. My instinct says it is right though.
I would really love to remove those underline links and replace them with the hover trick with CSS like MSN and the BBC does.
Netscape does not support, hover, however my DEC stats show that netscape is down to 4%.
Six months ago, there was a big discussion on underline links that was split 50/50. Since web years are like dog years, what is todays general consensus on underline links(in places were its obvious its a hyperlink).
The web page looks so much cleaner without them, but im still a little nervous.
Re: underline links IMHO if it's a small site well designed... <50 pages no need. Large sites especially with novice users = need.
Once had a client who refused to use the site unless the hand appeared over a link! That one really confused me when she saw the prototype and went "and where's the rest" (profile -- senior manager ABC1 cat) so it was back to the drawing board. She was delighted "the redesign work is excellent, thank you" me "we aim to please :)".
Made me think though, well somethings got to.
I am graphic designer. I think this is not about design vs. functionality but design vs. usability. If I had a choice between beauty or usability, I will take usability everytime. I try to understand who uses the site and design it to their level. How savvy is your audience?
Most of the sites that I've been seeing lately that I consider professional have (1)Menu across the top (2) Large horizontal opening image with some nice typography (4) Additional information, news, listed below.
I've noticed a strong pull towards functionality over design in recent years. Anyone else?
Mostly people don't visit sites to look at the design they come to get something they want.
I've worked with many people who are not web saavy, particularly in law offices and other areas performing research. If they can't find what they want in a hurry, they leave.
You've got to keep who's using your site in mind. People will put up with more (in the sense of clutter) if they're just surfing for fun than they will if they're intentionally searching for something specific.
Case in point: I give you the Happy Hampsters! I was continually amazed at the number of people who would complain about not being able to find anything they were looking for on the web, but give them a chance to watch those silly hampsters (or the baby) dancing, and they were just thrilled that the web was out there for their amusement.
What are your visitors looking for? What do they want from your website? Once you can answer those questions, you should be able to design a site that will give them what they want and need. It'll keep around longer and keep 'em coming back for more. Not only that, but yes, it makes them more likely to pass the link on to friends, family and co-workers.
It is easy to mistake these idiosyncracies as characterful site design, as people become aquainted with how a site works. The aim is make your website intuitive on first use.
As long as your site bereft of idosyncracies, leave it alone. Pages work just as well without style as with it - just as long as they are usable.
Site skins, ala css.
To make the issue even more complex, there's also the issue of what I call the 'jaded surfer' factor. I believe that as a surfer becomes more savvy, more capable (and more likely to trust the web to buy?), he tends to become less tolerant of the noise. So, the design that may have been acceptable at first becomes a liability to your repeat visitors.
It just reminds me that the boss or your client is possibly the worst person to evaluate a site design!
However most sucessful bosses or clients are not stupid. So do what we do.
Set up a small "test team" made up of carefully selected non-aligned people who would normally be hot prspects for your services/products (your target niche). Pay them if necessary. The less they know about the internet the better. They need only be half a dozen people but spread around the world with diff browsers, connections etc.
As you design the site, ask them to comment at certain times during the development - every week say, or every 2 days if its a rush job.
Ask the right questions (and remember asking the right questions is usually the hardest of all!) and document their responses. ( we use an online survey application as we are set up with it as we are a market research company, but a simple email questionnarrre can do)
The questions can be things right from timings, comprisons with competitors, ease of use, objective and subjective opinions and quant or qual information.
Involve your client/boss in the way you set up the panel, and the questions which should be based on your site objectives based on your site objectives (you DO have them don't you?)
That way the boss/client should be happy to accept the panel's views.
Later on your can do a larger feedback survey but we have found the "panel" works fantastically in getting objective info that you as designer or your client/boss as client completely miss.
Principle: Design for the customer, not for the boss
The problem is, time has gone by and now what was OK in 1998, now looks kind of amateurish.
Altavista went portal...
Excite went portal...
Lycos redesigned their homepage...
Hotbot was the 'hot' engine in 98...
Goto.com had killer branding...
IMO, there's a big difference between updating a '98 vintage page design to look more current with a few tasteful, professional graphics and taking a successful search engine site and running it into the ground with over-blown portal aspirations and mega-graphics-heavy page designs.
I personally would hesitate to do business with a site that looked like it hadn't been updated in five years just as much as I would with a site that made me wait for five minutes' of graphics to view its home page.
Google is a nice, clean, simple interface, but certainly doesn't look like it was built in 1998 and never changed. And I'm assuming lgn's site might require a bit more content on the front page than Google's search box.
Why not try making a few new designs, and then asking different people you know what they think of them... ask everyone from your computer geek friends to your grandma (if she has an internet connection). Find a happy medium.
And, if you want hovering underlines (which is something I'm thinking of doing... I like the effect), don't worry about netscape. Put your a:link, a:active, a:hover and a:visited CSS attributes into a second style sheet and call it via @import. It will override the default blue underlined links, and netscape will be none the wiser.
My earliest graphics were wonderful... and slow. Then I learned just enough about image compression to wreck every graphic on my site by 1999. This year I put some meat back in my graphics.
certainly doesn't look like it was built in 1998
Good design can be timeless.
Yahoo's home page from 1998 [web.archive.org] looks far more professional today than the majority of pages that will be launched in the next 12 months.
Very simple does not at all mean that a design will be perceived as being amateurish.
All it takes to project a professional appearance is a well crafted logo combined with simple, elegant, sensibly laid out plain text HTML content.
TNR is almost a sure fire sign of a rookie job.
Like The New York Times or Salon, you mean?
On content sites, Times is the best choice for body text--period. It's easy to read, and it has a familiar "editorial" look that communicates a subliminal message of credibility and authority.
This is especially true on notebooks or LCDs that are running at something other than their native resolution.
When a serif font feels like the right choice for a site, someone here recommended a font mix that I've been using ever since:
This mix of fonts has good market penetration, and it works very well cross-platform. Even more, Georgia was designed for on-screen display and often looks much better than TNR.
Mix in a bit of extra line-height and letter-spacing to enhance readability and you have a very nice, "modern feeling" page with a serif font.
While my site is still a bit too cluttered for my taste and it's certainly a work in progress, I've found my page sizes reduced by more than 60% when I moved from plain HTML to XHTML and CSS. And I was able to teach myself the basics of this stuff in a weekend.
It's not just the page size reduction that has me very happy, though, although this in itself is probably responsible for keeping my dial-up users smiling. Of equal importance, using CSS increases the ratio of content-to-fuzz (good for search engine optimization), and better yet, an XHTML/CSS combo is light years easier and quicker to update!
This means that when "what's cool" changes tomorrow or when you have a new tool or script or design idea, you can refresh your whole site lickity split with fewer headaches.
I find it too heavy (and therefore too contrasty) for body text
I know what you mean. I think that heavy feeling also depends on the rest of the page, the line length, graphic elements, etc. Sometimes, when I want to avoid a heavy look, I use a gray for the font color that is near-to-black. That's another tool in the toolkit.
As you say, to each their own.