Whether or not you are a web designer by training, if you expect to guide the development of a digital enterprise, you need to have a basic understanding of site design and architecture.
Data show that web users exhibit an extreme form of channel surfing (to draw an analogy from another medium, television). They can click through hyperlinks at a blistering pace, leaving only precious seconds for the web designer to entice them to stop, look around, and with minimal effort, find what it is they are searching for and make a purchase.
How a site is designed — typography, color, page layout, site hierarchy, to name just a few elements — can have an immediate and lasting impression on visitors. And it can keep them coming back. According to a study conducted by Forrester Research, three of four factors most likely to drive repeat visitors to a web site were design related: ease of use, download time, and freshness. Eight of nine other factors tested came no where close in influencing repeat visitors. Similar results are found in terms of web users typical sources of frustration. A benchmark study of site usability suggests that improvements have been slow in coming, as sites seek to add more features.
To be certain, brilliant design can do little to mask a lack of content. But if you have something to sell, site design can make all the difference. A place in cyberspace must be built with the same attention to detail and architectural sophistication as the physical space in which people shop. The web presents similar issues: like the bank on the street corner that is built to look secure and trustworthy, a bank web site can use various design elements to convey a sense of security and trust — one that goes beyond the technical aspects of enabling secure transactions over the web.
Web designers use familiar concepts to help guide visitors through a site. Market baskets and shopping carts evoke the physical analogy of placing products in a container as we shop. Icons are used as navigational devices to give visitors a sense of movement through a site. The web storefront also needs to visually convey a company’s image and its products in a manner that is synonymous with its business objects.
The web is a young medium. Our understanding of design effectiveness is far from complete. However, we are already seeing some convergence on style and structure that appear to work and that users expect to see. The best way to understand this is to log time on the web, visiting sites and keeping track of the design elements that seem to work best. Look at how some designers break free from the inherent linearity of traditional print, audio, and video, to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the web.