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“A successful web site starts with a design that shows creativity and uniqueness, but ultimately it must help the visitor answer the question or fill the need they have. Content is king!”

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Susan S Friesen

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Institute of Political Philosophy

10 Ideas for Excellent Web Design
The 10 ideas presented below aren’t meant to be the only way to design a web site. But since I specialize in creating web sites for small businesses, I have found the following principles to be important to the success of your new web site. These guidelines come from having eight years of experience designing web sites, as well as probably too many hours surfing the web.

Make it unique – I often compare building web sites to building homes, and I look at myself as a custom home builder. That means I create the site to reflect the image and personality of both you and your business.

Keep it simple – I firmly believe in keeping a web site simple, both from an aesthetic point of view, and more importantly, from an engineering point of view.

Aesthetically, I want the user to be able to see your message and be able to act on it. No need for flashing text or cheesy animations. White space is good too, just look at Google’s home page. Any wonder it became the dominant seach engine when most other search engines have a home page so cluttered it’s hard to find the search box?

Make it compatible – I use either Google Chrome or Firefox as my browser. So I am really aware of how many web sites are built that aren’t compatible. I know that I leave sites pretty quickly when I can’t get them to work with my setup, and I take great care to make sure that the sites I design for my clients don’t suffer the same fate. I generally design for 99th percentile. There’s always that 1% who are still running a version 4 browser and they can’t be helped. But there’s no reason you should tell 5-25% of your clients that their business isn’t appreciated just because they don’t have the same computer or browser as you do.

Part of the compatibility issue is also making sure the design is flexible. The designer has to realize that on the web there is no control over how the work will be viewed. Monitor size, choice of browser, choice of default fonts and many other issues all affect how the page will render. A good design must be flexible so that it displays well for a broad range of users. It may not be perfect for everyone, but it should be readable.

Make it easy to navigate – This is probably the most import item on this list because once customers find your site, they need to quickly find the information they’re after or they will be returning to the search engine to click on your competitor’s site. Many of my sites use a left hand menu that has become sort of a standard in web site design. This immediately lets the visitor see what the main topics are, and they can easily jump from section to section on any page of the site. They don’t have to remember the trail that got them to where they are and they don’t have to make return trips to the home page. For larger sites I often use pull down menus such as those that this site uses, and I also include site map pages to help users and to help search engines index the site. I also include text links at the bottom of pages so users don’t have to scroll back up to the top on longer pages. The text links also help users who don’t have graphical browsers or choose not to load the images.

Make it easy to bookmark – Once users find what they are looking for, they often want to bookmark it so that they can return to that point later. By avoiding frames and dynamic pages, I guarantee that when a user bookmarks a page in your site, they will be returned to the exact page that they bookmarked. This is also very important if people want to create links to your content rather than just your home page.

Make it easy to expand – Publishing on the web is one of the most cost effective ways to get information to your potential and existing customers as well as your business partners. Because of this I often find that a client will start with a five page site and once they see how well it is working they want to add more to it. The designs I use make it easy to expand the site without having to tear it apart and start over. This is one reason I favor the left hand navigation model. Need to add another topic? Easy, just add another button down the side.

Make it efficient – I taught myself HTML when there were no WYSIWYG page layout programs out there. Coming from a programming background, coding HTML by hand was a natural way to do it. Also being a programmer, I have the discipline to create very efficient coding which makes for more stable pages that download quicker. When I start the first stages of planning a new design, I’m thinking ahead to how efficient that design will be when it comes time to download it.

Understand graphics – Nothing can ruin a web site faster than poor graphics. There is a real art to creating graphics for the web so that the images download quickly yet preserve enough image quality to be useful and beautiful. There are two main graphic types used on the web, GIFs and JPEGs. A third format, PNG, is supported by most of the latest browsers. Each format has its own strengths and weakness and it is important to choose the correct format for each graphic. It is also important to understand how to squeeze the files the right amount so that there is a perfect compromise between image quality and download speed.

Keep the search engines in mind – There are three ways people will find your site. First you can tell them the URL, either directly or through your advertising. Second, they may find your site through a link on another site. But for most small businesses, the most important path to your web site is from a search engine like Google or Yahoo. So it is very important that the site is designed from the start to get the best rankings possible. I follow many industry newsletters and websites and I believe the way to getting good rankings is through careful design and good content. Tricks don’t last very long and if the search engines catch you trying to fool them, you may find you’ve done your site more harm than good.

Make it affordable – I believe in giving good value for the money spent. Being a small businessman myself, I know how small businesses have to control their costs if they want to be successful. Not only are my rates very affordable, I also know how to get the best value out of many of the freebies that are still out there on the web. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel for each client, so I use free public domain scripts whenever possible. Not only are they free, but they are also well tested and bug free.

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