So what is design?
Design (NOUN) : A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is made.
The oxford dictionary definition holds true when it comes to web design but often it is easy to assume that designing a website is just about making things look pretty. However, designing a website is in-fact a multi-step process which I shall attempt to outline in this post!
First and foremost you have to ask yourself “Who am I trying to attract to my site?”. Always bare in mind that you are not designing a website for yourself but for your potential site users. Therefore it takes research, lot’s of research! Identify your potential users and find out what they are looking for, how do they generally access and use the web. Ask yourself, “what are my competitors doing right?”. Research what functions and features your competitors sites offer. Do they offer eCommerce, online booking or perhaps online courses? Identify which features are just gimmicks that don't actually add any value and which features do add value. Ask yourself “What do users expect when they land on your website and what actions do you want them to take when they get there?”, once you come to understand the answers to these questions you are ready to move on to the next phase of the design process.
Content is king part I
Now you’ve identified who your users are, what works well for your competition and what doesn't, it's time to plan out the websites functionality, content and layout. This doesn't mean full site mock-up but rather making notes and sketches of design ideas and ultimately a wire-frame. It’s important at this stage to have good idea of what your content is going to be as the layout of your website depends on the content. You don’t need to have final drafts but a good idea is essential in order to shape a layout that works. By going through this fine tuning process you can often end up with a design plan far more effective than your original thoughts.
Once you are happy with the wire-frame and the basic functionality of the site it’s time to look closer at the aesthetics! Using the wire-frames as a layout guide you should now start to fill in the details such as what font or fonts should you use, sounds like a minor detail but there are many different types of fonts and the one you choose will make an impression. Choosing a font that is too casual when you are trying to convey a more serious subject matter will detract from your websites purpose. Also pairing fonts that clash could be off putting to your site visitors and create disharmony in your design. Then there’s colour, as with font: what colours you choose will have a big effect on how your site comes across to your users, choosing colours that clash or evoke the wrong emotion for your brand could detract from your intended message. Not wishing to go into too much detail on colour theory and fontology (perhaps it’s too late) I’ll stop here, but really I have just touched the surface.
Content is king part II
Now we get to the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Good SEO is the most important factor as to whether your site will even get picked up in search engines. Part of effective SEO is the process of once again looking at your competition. What keywords and phrases are they using to rank in Google? What keywords should you be including in your content (Sparingly, keyword stuffing won't do you any favours!) and what steps need to be taken to give your website the best chance? A somewhat overused phrase is “CONTENT IS KING”! Overused but true, having a content strategy and writing plenty of quality content is crucial to get your site noticed so this is a step that should not be overlooked.
Site performance considerations
The longer a website takes to load, the more visitors will abandon it. Google has made its stance on this issue clear when they announced that page speed will be a factor in ranking websites.
Google has also said that the first three seconds of loading time can determine up to 7% of your search ranking. This means that if your loading time is more than three seconds, you could be losing up to 7% of your traffic. In addition, Google has stated that every second of delay in loading time will result in about 1% less traffic. As such, if your site takes too long to load, it may not show up in search engine results at all, or it may rank lower.
As such, choosing a lightweight CMS (Content management system) theme or platform for SEO is essential to help your website rank higher in search engine results pages. Lightweight themes are fast loading and they have a smaller footprint on your server, so they provide better ranking opportunities on Google.
Site performance considerations part II
Choosing a hosting platform for a fast website The hosting platform is the backbone of your website. It's what allows you to upload content and design pages. The most popular hosting platforms are shared and dedicated servers. A shared server might be a good option if you're just starting out, but it's not the best if you're looking for speed. Dedicated servers are more expensive, but they're faster and more reliable. Before you choose a hosting platform, it's important to understand that the choice will have a significant impact on your site's performance. The hosting platform you choose will dictate how quickly your site loads and how much it costs to maintain.
This site resides on Hostinger, it's cheap and fast with great support (usually within the hour), as such I'm happy to recommend it. Ahem! Full disclosure, that's an affiliate link, but I don't affiliate with just anyone, and I only recommend products and services that are good quality. If the standard drops or anything changes I'll update this recommendation. But for now. We good Hostinger!
Once you have all your ducks lined up, the site can be developed. At this point you already know what it’s going to look like and what the content will be so this will make the actual build process much smoother. However, as this post is primarily about the design process I won’t go into too much detail on development here. But how long this process takes and what's involved will vary greatly depending on what technologies you use, what CMS (content management system) etc. All these things should of been identified in the planning process and then taken into account, a topic for another post perhaps!
Your site is launched! Now it will need to be submitted to google and then you are done! Right? Well almost, the SEO never stops and continuing research and updating content is a must as your competitors will be gunning to knock you down the google search ranks at all times. Be vigilant! An ongoing SEO strategy is imperative to your websites future place in Googles index!
Also, remember that your website is a living, breathing thing that requires marketing and maintenance. As your business grows, so will your website. You'll need to update your content, optimize your website for mobile devices, and make sure it's up-to-date with search engine algorithms. If you're not ready to make these investments yourself, you might want to consider hiring a company to do the work for you. It's important to remember that a website is a business investment, and like any other investment, it needs to be maintained.
So to return to the title of this blog post “There is more to design than just aesthetics” (at least that used to be the title before I changed it for SEO purposes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). It’s fair to say that aesthetics is an important factor in the design process however due to the way the internet functions it is not in itself enough. You can have the most eye-catching website known to mankind but if nobody is looking at it, it’s worthless. Likewise you could have an ugly website that ranks well in google but puts people off on account of its hideousness. It’s all a balancing act!