Everybody thinks they’re a designer. Just like everybody thinks they’re a good driver. But there is a big difference between being a good driver and being a race car driver. The same thing can be said for web design; there is a big difference between having somebody who thinks they have good taste lead the design for a website and an actual designer who does it day-in-day-out and considers the user experience just as much as the best mix of colours. Once you have the goals of your website redesign established the best thing you can do to ensure it’s success is by involving the talents of a professional designer with a background in user experience.
There are many graphical designers out there that have made the jump to web design, but when it comes to doing a good job the best web designers look beyond aesthetics and plan for interactivity. I concede that there are other disciplines beyond professional design that are required for a successful website redesign (I.e Search engine optimization, content strategy, programming performance, etc.) but, if something’s not designed well to begin with it won’t get used. It’s that simple.
Appreciation of design, like any art form, is a very subjective thing since we all have our personal tastes and preferences, but when it comes to websites the most important person to impress is the user. You are not the user and neither is your boss, so it is critical to look at things from your website visitor’s perspective and the goals they are looking to fulfill when interacting with your digital presence. Although I have an appreciation for good design and have knowledge regarding best practices, I’m not a designer.
I’ve realized that to get the best design I need to trust an expert and put my faith in the fact they can translate business objectives and user goals into a design that is both aesthetic and functional. Admittedly, some websites may be very simple in their functionality (Brochure websites) and the primary need of design is aesthetics and providing information, but I too often see these basic sites butchered by amateur design. If you don’t have a big website budget consider purchasing a template from sites such as Theme Forest or Templates Box that contain designs from professionals. You may not get an original design, but you’ll likely get one that has had thought put into it and doesn’t look amateur. People will judge the credibility of your business within an instant of being on your website, so if it looks amateur they will think you’re amateur. Perception is reality.
Besides my opinion regarding the importance of hiring a professional designer to help with your website redesign, I would also like to share some best practices to help you when assessing different designers for your own purposes. Here are a few things from my personal experience along with best practices learned from HubSpot and Steve Krug (Author of Don’t Make Me Think) to look for when evaluating a design or designer that are indicative of digital sophistication and an understanding of user experience:
1. The design is geared towards it’s target audience. For example, if it’s a site for seniors then text should be larger than average and there should be very straightforward ways of accomplishing tasks with very little clutter.
2. A website should accomplish three things: Attract visitors, convert visitors to leads, and have built-in analytics for measuring usage behaviors so adjustments can be made to optimize it’s effectiveness.
3. Home page should communicate who you are, what you do, and why it matters to your audience.
4. Websites should explain themselves. As far as humanly possible, when you look at a web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory. The same thing can be said for any components that require interaction – If you have to explain things with more than a couple sentences you’re design is failing.
5. Keep things simple and inline with conventions. As a rule, people don’t like to puzzle over how to do things. Don’t seek to be unique and unorthodox with things like navigation, contact forms, or general layout unless you’re audience appreciates or expects it.
6. Spend resources on content strategy more so than beautiful design. Also consider search engine optimization and how the design will impact how effectively the site can be indexed by search engines. For instance, a completely Flash based site may look cool, but it may impede how easily your site is found by search engines.
7. There should be a hierarchy to the navigation so that items of primary importance are given prominence whereas items of tertiary importance are relegated to the header or footer. Keep this consistent since users will rely on their memory to retrace things when they visit the site again.
If you want to perform a quick acid test regarding how usable a website design or application is, Jakob Neilsen at useit.com provides ten usability heuristics to guide your analysis.