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web design: form follows function

2007 September 24
by robin ragle-davis

note: this is an article from the monthly newsletter i send to my clients

What makes a good site and what are the basic steps you and your designer should follow in order to get there?

R Buckminster Fuller once wrote, “When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

Ask the right questions
A good design provides the solution to a problem or is the solution you arrive at after asking pertinent questions. An elegant design is a simple solution to a complex problem.

If your project is a public facing web site then some very important questions might be:

* Who is (are) your target audience?
* What message(s) do you want them to receive?
* What action(s) do you want them to take?
* How can the site contribute directly to increasing your business, easing the burden on your staff or both?

The most important step is to ask the right questions and to know what problems you want to solve. Perhaps the problem is simply that your site has become stale and needs a fresh look. Then again you may have decided you want more interactive components, the site may not be attracting and retaining the traffic you had hoped or you want something that can be updated in-house. A larger company or organization will be dealing with additional issues such as changing management priorities, shifting market requirements, a new focus by one or more stakeholders or wanting to increase the strategic use of technology to meet fundamental business goals.

Build your site to support your original objectives
Every decision regarding your site should be made after the fundamental questions, and business problems you hope to solve have been considered.

The design and architecture (how people navigate through your site) should support the site mission by making the important areas easy to find. Site layout should be clean and focus on ease of use.

Page coding should adhere to current web standards. You may not know the difference but your web developer should. This will speed download times, increase accessibility and improve the ability for search engines to index your site. Accessibility is simply good practice. If your site was developed a few years ago chances are it is all table based.

Programming and back end decisions should be made based on the current needs of your business, the requirements of your site and your budget.

Hosting decisions should be made based on what will best support the sites needs including the size of your site, the security it will require, any legal compliance issues you need to consider and the traffic you expect to receive.

Finally – Traffic: Finding you is not automatic
As of September 20, 2007 , based on figures provided by Netcraft, there were 54,400,000 active sites and 136,000,000 domains on the internet – and thousands more every single minute. If you want people to find yours, more is required than just creating a site and launching it onto the web.

At minimum you should include your web address on your business cards, advertising and letterhead.

Get yourself listed in as many reputable online directories that cater to your business category as you can.

Consider even a small PPC [Pay per Click] campaign.

This will make a big difference in your traffic and therefore your bottom line.

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