Good Boy

In all this discussion of the elements of a website, and in starting with the end in mind, I have to ask:

When can a website be considered successful?

I think the answer to this question is pretty easy. If my site doesn’t show up on a “Best Designed” list or if it isn’t in the top ten page results for Google searches, it can still be considered successful if it does or exceeds what it was designed to do. My first website for ForeverLawn of Tampa Bay probably won’t garner a lot of interest in Japan, but if there is a significant increase in sales locally and an increasing amount of traffic throughout its first year, the client and I would consider it a success.

If the rest of the ForeverLawn dealers in North America use our website as a template for their businesses, I would consider it a success, also. If I, as a designer, have my own portfolio site, I would want it to appear on a top design list. If I have a site that strives to be the end-all-be-all for fashion trends and blogging, I’d want it to be in the top Google results globally.

I think the success of a site is measured by how well it does what it is designed to do. Any other recognition, is the icing on the cake.

Marking Territory

The more I delve into coding in class, the more I am seeing an interesting contradiction. While the code is a rigid format that must be adhered to in order to achieve a desired effect, how the code is used is where the coder’s style and creativity comes into play. Hence, the personal choices, or even combinations, of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, JQuery, or any of the other options available. As a novice in the web design world, it is fascinating to learn more about each one.

I can see how coders become possessive about their code in their work. Being creative is what sets designers apart, after all. Either that, or we’d all be looking at cookie-cutter web sites all the time. So, when the branding for HTML5 through a universal logo was introduced as an all-encompassing entity, I can understand the backlash it received.

Developers pride themselves on their abilities to create to their style and if they choose another format from HTML to shine, why would they want to be forced into calling it what it isn’t?

Heel

After I wrote about the possible use of the QR code in my last post, I was considering current uses for the technology and whether they might apply to web design, such as my own commercial web page client. What I did bot add into the discussion was the limitations to the code as it exists now.

I’m not convinced that the QR code is the end-all-be-all of today’s online communication. There are still untapped uses for the code, because the code itself is still in its infancy stage. The code may not even be used as it is for much loner considering the rapid growth and expansion of such option. I do feel that this is a customary phase in the advent of this particular digital technology.

I don’t even think a large proportion of smart phone and computer users utilize QR codes. They may turn to it eventually, but I think there needs to be further development of the technology and what it can do. When I visited Orlando’s Surf Expo, a water sports industry standard for retailers who plan to feature and buy products for upcoming seasons, I was able to get a floor plan of the event on my smart phone by scanning the QR code. That was convenient, and it also linked me to the web page for the event. This was an efficient use for the technology.

In contrast, I was driving along Interstate-75 just north of the Brandon/Hwy 60 exit of the highway east of Tampa. One-sixth of a billboard along the road had a large QR code on it. Maybe it would work, but it would only be able to be scanned by a passenger in moving vehicle traveling at about 60 miles per hour — and half those passengers would miss it. How ineffective is that use? Perhaps, that sign is a step in another direction for the codes or for the evolution of the next phase of the QR codes.

 

Going places

As I think about where I’m going with the website I want to build with ForeverLawn of Tampa Bay, I’m facing a number of questions and issues with making ideas reality. First, the site will be advertising a product, so sales will be the focus, as will consumer education of the product and installation. One of the first questions we get early in the sales process is whether prospective customers can see actual installations.

With a product like artificial turf, is it realistic to expect customers to need a mobile app? I have to trains of thought on this one. I don’t believe that people will necessarily need to access all of our product and installation information immediately on the go. But what about when a customer is at a commercial or residential site and is struck by the appearance of the product and wants to know more? I feel that making them wait until they get home, may stifle the excitement of the possibility of owning the same turf.

Therefore, what is the best option. Believe it or not, this is where I start considering a QR code. Why not? If the customer’s interest is piqued, why not have a small sign/plaque embedded in the installation, where passers-by can see the name of the company, then jump to a web page, or even an inquiry form to get information. They like what they see, they consider the possibilities, they explore the option immediately without having to go home and have a little time to reconsider whether to pursue the option further.

Perhaps there isn’t necessarily a need for an entire mobile app, but there is a need to access information on the go.k

Sniffing Around

Navigation can be the most frustrating part of websites for time-limited users. There should be a converse to that, but it would be more appropriate to say that good – even great – navigation should be so natural, users aren’t even really aware they are using it. Doesn’t that make sense?

A big part of natural navigation is establishing a natural hierarchy within the site. Using labeling that is the most common helps with this – “About Us”, “Products”, “Contact Us” are widely used and accepted as no-brainer labeling, and when you think about site navigation, you want readers to be focused on the product information, not on what a button or link really means.

As a web user, I prefer the navigation menus along the top in a shallow bar with scroll-over, dropdowns. That is most natural for me, but might not be so for every user to the site. A menu bar down the left side of the page, giving all available options is also a fast, user-friendly way to present navigation, but may not necessarily be the wisest use of space. This is a more traditional place to find navigation, so inexperienced visitors will still be able to find what they are looking for.

On  site with fewer menu option, I think it best to go with horizontal menus. But in a case like The Home Depot, where there are dozens of navigation options and thousands of products, the left-side vertical navigation with vertical utilities bars is probably the best bet for ease of use.

Again, as I’ve stated many times recently, it all depends on the content and the users whether the navigation is subtle or overt, horizontal or vertical, simple or complex.

Scratching Behind the Ears

In theory, there is endless space online to present all the information you want on a web page. The catch is the average browser height in only about 600 pixels. So where to designers draw the line – literally and figuratively? What should appear “above the fold” and what, if anything, should appear beneath?

I see the pros and cons of both focusing solely above the fold and drawing readers below. If the designer has presented a logical and natural hierarchy, readers will understand that information of lower relevance will appear lower on the page. Therefore, readers will continue reading if the design and content have held their attention, or if they need the information.

Web designers with good awareness of their page visitors and the product/service/information they are presenting, will be able to tell whether readers will dig deeper in a page.

Then there is another question that arises when you start talking about sitting the most relevant information above the fold – the header. Is it better to go big on a header or sacrifice that real estate to the presentation of the content? My answer: isn’t that a “depends” kind of question? If the header is large, but captivates the reader, it may be worth making the big statement. If the header is merely a place to label the company presenting the site and offer search options, then it might be better to make it smaller and focus the reader on the main product/service/information for which they came. The more websites I analyze for readability, usability, message, and content, the more I see there really isn’t one overriding guideline. Designers should know their content and their readers to decide the optimum utilization of real estate.