Monday, 3 January 2011

Beyond the online filing cabinet

Making your web pages work for you

What makes for good web design and communication?

People talk about fonts and colours and key-word searches. About word-counts, hierarchies and effective use of white-space.

All of which is fine.

But it’s always best to start with first principles.

What is your website for? Who do you want to read it?
What are you trying to communicate and why?

And, crucially, what do you want people to do once they’ve visited your site and read or scanned your content?

A web page is not an on-line filing cabinet.

It is a means of communication.

I’d suggest that unless it makes a particular offer or invites a response, then we should question whether it needs publishing in the first place.

We aren’t all Amazon. We don’t all have products or services you can collect and drop into a virtual shopping basket.

But if we’re publishing material at all then there must be some reason for it. We want it to be read. We want to communicate something.

And once we’ve established what it is we want to communicate and why, then off we go on the ‘how’.

And this is where some simple principles come in and where we start to have some fun.

What do we like to see when we visit a website? Then let’s make sure our website includes the same features. Is it ease of navigation? Clear lay-out? Simple, uncluttered text?

What do our readers want to see? Ask them. They’ll tell you.

They may well want to read your fascinating 30-page document. But will they want to scroll painstakingly through each page online? Sure, give them a link to a pdf file, but better still, give them a short outline, a few bullet points, an enticing summary.

How do you want to talk to your readers and customers? Your website should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Do you want to talk with them online, by phone, face to face?

Create a dialogue. That’s the whole point of communication. If your website encourages them into some kind of dialogue then it’s doing its job.

If it’s simply an online filing cabinet then do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect your £200.

Go back to first principles. Roll the dice and start again. You’ll get much further around the board.

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