Before the web designers reading this have a coronary, the above headline needs to be qualified.
Web design is, of course, critical to the success of the website it is applied to.
All successful websites have considerable amounts of resources invested in ensuring that the design is not only enticing in itself, but ensures the organisation it represents is seen in the most professional light possible.
In fact design is becoming more and more important as businesses seek to gain a competitive edge on their competitors.
Unfortunately though, a large percentage of websites invest in aesthetics at the expense of other factors critical to the overall success of the website.
More than meets the eye
The illustration below outlines where aesthetics (or presentation) sit in the overall scheme of websites.
Critical factors for a professional website
At its most basic, presentation requirements need to be balanced with communication and technical requirements in order to deliver a successful result.
A website with poor communication or technical performance and features will soon fail the business operator that commissioned it. It’s just that these failings typically take longer to identify than the ‘in your face’ design.
But it doesn’t end there. All three of these requirements in turn need to be underpinned by the equally critical factors of usability, maintainability and scalability.
So what do these terms mean?
Less visible critical factors
Usability means how easily website visitors can achieve their desired objective. For example, finding a given product and being able to buy it seamlessly and intuitively.
Maintainability means the ease for business operators to maintain the website. For example, websites that are too graphics-heavy are difficult for business owners or their staff to be able to alter easily as it requires too much technical and creative skill to alter the graphics professionally.
Scalability means the ability of your website to take on new content and functionality easily and affordably, without incurring huge labour inconvenience and cost every time. At its most basic it means designing your website so that clients can add new pages or content sections themselves whenever they need to, without needing either a design or computer science degree.
All of these capabilities are even more important to the smaller business operator, who doesn’t have the budget to go back to their web designer every time they want to make any kind of alteration to their website.
Most focus on aesthetics
Unfortunately, few designers master this careful balance of website components. And unsuspecting business operators often don’t realise that these aspects are going to be so important, tending to be guided by the designer.
Another reason for the lack of regard for these factors is that the look of websites is the most obvious aspect of the website to most web users. The online world is a very visual medium, so design factors are most obvious to the eye.
It’s not until the other factors fail that they become apparent. For example, with bad grammar or spelling, a broken link or even a lost sale.
Defaulting to the devil you know
Many business operators also tend to treat websites in a similar way to printed materials they are familiar with. Again, these are essentially visual materials that pay little heed to the factors that influence websites.
But because it is territory they are relatively familiar with, it becomes the default position for creating a website. The crunch comes after the website is launched and they want to either make a change to it or add new functionality.
It’s only then that they realise that there is indeed much more to the website than its appearance and start to identify a range of ongoing aspects the designer may have failed to cater for.
It’s important for your pocket and, in turn, business that you don’t fall into this trap.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au.