before delving into what we believe to be good web design factors,
we should make it clear that since web sites serve many different
purposes, there is no one correct way to design a web
site. Some sites, such as hobby or personal sites have a lot more
leeway in what is acceptable practice compared to commercial or
professional sites. Since Sabre Software & Consulting Ltd. primarily
deals with business and professional web site clients our focus
will be on elements relating primarily to these types of sites.
Even for a corporate or professional client a web site may serve
multiple purposes, or these organizations may have more than one
web site to serve these disparate needs. Examples of these different
purposes include investor information, service and/or product information,
direct on-line sales, customer/technical support, competitions/special
events, general corporate marketing, and even retailer, distributor,
franchisee or employee support (through password protected access).
One important component not directly related to the web site design
is the selection of a domain name. This should ideally be selected
in such a way that it can be easily discerned and remembered by
users (not always possible because of availability issues), but
since it is as important an address as a street address or phone
number, constantly changing this address is one sure way to lose
users who may think that you have gone out of business if a once
familiar address suddenly disappears with the Domain Not Found
error message. Even if you do a major site redesign and re-architecting
it is a good idea to put automatic forwarding on obsolete page addresses
(at least the popular ones) so that people dont receive the
disturbing Error 404 - Page Not Found message.
It has been said that a web site needs to be more than an electronic
brochure/catalogue, but for some companies, such as service type
organizations/professionals, an on-line brochure is a very valid
purpose for a web site, whether it be the focus of the web site,
a single menu item or just a downloadable Acrobat (pdf) document.
On-line is a cost effective way to distribute a brochure/catalogue,
both from a production and distribution perspective. And updates
are cheaper and faster to execute and disseminate than with hard
copy. Just imagine this nightmare scenario: You have just received
shipment of 10,000 copies of a printed catalogue, and receive word
that company XYC Inc. has just declared bankruptcy and immediately
stopped shipment of their Super Widget, which just happened to be
the feature item in that catalogue. Solution, add a stick-on label
over the key item, or hit the recycle bin with all 10,000 copies.
For an on-line catalogue, just rework the pdf file or web page.
Cost, time and blood pressure - considerably lower.
This is not to say that no one should ever print up a glossy brochure
ever again, but it does point up how an on-line electronic version
can be both cost-effective and timely.
In the following sections we will discuss key features/concepts
that we feel are important components of web site design.
Your web site is as much a part of your corporate image as any
other medium of exposure, such as brochures, business cards, letterhead,
TV and print advertising, logos, signs, and any other method that
you use to let people know who you are. Additionally, since virtually
anybody, anywhere can potentially access your site, a bad site
could do far more damage than pretty much any one of the other
media mentioned above.
Therefore a site must be designed to project the image that you
want your organization to have. Some small business people use
their teenage kid to design their site because he is a wiz with
computers, and cheap. Unfortunately this often results in a clone
of little Jimmys favourite rock band fan site,
bearing little resemblance to the corporate style, and quite possibly
a scattered organization guaranteed to confuse customers.
One of the first things that we at Sabre Software & Consulting
Ltd. try to do is establish a look and feel for a site that the
client is happy with and that is consistent with their corporate
Site Architecture and Navigation
It is important that a site have a consistent look and feel, and
that each page reflects the organization that it belongs to. Some
sites have a quite fancy and appealing home page, but then interior
content pages have a generic, belongs to no one look. Since search
engines can catalogue these pages individually, people arriving
at one of these pages directly may have no idea that they are
at a particular organizations site.
The navigation structure of a site is important. Information needs
to be laid out in a logical fashion. Key features need to be easily
located by the user without having to try and second-guess the
designers thought processes. This can be tricky at times
because a site with room to grow in features needs to anticipate
the extra site elements without looking incomplete. At the same
time an unnecessarily restrictive layout may make future additions
look ad hoc, and can eventually result in a totally non functional
A key component to a good site design is a (working) site map
showing where key elements of the site are going to be located,
and how the navigation structure will support them. Even the best
laid plans can run into trouble, but a navigation concept that
is flexible and designed to anticipate future needs, even if these
needs are poorly defined right now, is much easier to adapt in
the future than a rigid structure with no scope for change. The
advent of drop menus in browsers has greatly helped the versatility
of site design, but even well designed framed sites, or hierarchical
structures work well and can be quite flexible to deal with future
If a site gets very large and complex, then an active on-site
site map can be a good idea. Another approach is a search capability,
although this may require a database which can add cost and complexity
to a site.
But the key, regardless of which navigation method is selected
is to organize the material in a logical way so that users can
find what they want with the minimum of effort.
One of the many purposes of web sites is to communicate information
on products/services or technical support issues. This information
should be clear and concise. If a user is looking for information
on your products A and B, the information
presented should be sufficient that they can make a decision as
to whether they should buy A over B, or
indeed even over perhaps a competitors product C.
Nothing is more frustrating than coming to a site and getting
little or no, or worse yet, confusing, information on a product
or service. Some users may never buy anything over the net, but
good information may still net a sale through your retail distribution
While direct communication with your clients/customers and potential
future ones may be good, forcing a user to contact you for even
the simplest of information may well lose them right away. Communication
should be reserved for special needs, and when the buyer is close
to making a decision and needing some additional information to
aid in the final decision.
A little extra effort to educate the customer/client base may
seem like you are also helping your competition, but if you have
a compelling product/service, that additional information may
just tip the buyers decision in your favour in lieu of an
equally compelling competing product.
And favour truth and facts over hype. Most consumers of products
and services are becoming pretty jaded these days. Over hyping
something can actually lose a sale, not make it. Also misinformation
can get you into trouble with legal authorities, even in far off
lands that you may not even intend to business in.
Promises, Promises, Promises
This is a catch all for four, although different topics, all of
which have a similar effect in disappointing the end user.
The illogical link. This is when a user follows a link
and does not end up where they expect to get. News portal sites
are bad for this. Click a headline expecting to get to an article
on a topic only to arrive at another portal style page with dozens
of links, and often the continuation link for this topic being
worded differently. Frustrating. Does not encourage repeat visits
to your site.
The not quite there link. Similar to the illogical link
in some ways. Click a download link for a file. The next step
might be a terms and conditions page. The next link might lead
to a selection of servers (i.e. find one closest to you). Then
the next link might be to select your computer platform or system
software version. The next link might be download and installation
steps. Then finally you might actually get to download the file.
While sometimes some of these steps might desirable or necessary,
the more streamlined that this process can be the better.
The Feature-of-the-Month. Having a feature that is updated
periodically can be a good idea; if it is updated regularly. Having
a album of the month feature that was last updated on October
two years ago actually does more damage than good. Dont
make promises that you cant keep.
The contact us and we will get back to you promise. Nothing
does your organization more harm than this promise not fulfilled.
If you arent able or willing to respond promptly, dont
make this offer. Have no email links on your site if this service
cannot be supported. But better still just support it. Its the
best way to develop a dialogue with your customers/clients.
The language used for most web sites is HTML, Hyper Text
Markup Language. Basically hyper text refers to
the ability to link to other parts of the web with clickable text
links. Image maps, clickable buttons, etc. are all extensions
of this capability. The beauty of this is that you can make all
sorts of reference links to related topics/pages, either as asides
(external or internal to your site), or as main leads to subsections
of your site.
A good example of this is the MacPhee Workshop site where items
like patterns, fabrics, kits and retreats that are discussed in
the TV show episode descriptions have direct links to the relevant
catalogue page to facilitate ordering that item. And the catalogue
page has a back button to take you back to the same TV show episode.
The same linking applies to the newsletters, brainwaves and course
descriptions on that site.
This integration of the site makes it easier for the user. They
dont have to follow the links if they dont want to,
but it is also much easier to order pattern #203, than if they
had to write it down, and then search the catalogue later.
Generally Sabre Software & Consulting Ltd. suggests that links
to external sites be in new windows, and in that way you dont
lose the user from your site.
There are many
other aspects of web site design that we could discuss, but for
now we will end our philosophical discussion. If you have any questions,
or feel that philisophically we are in tune with your web development
needs, please feel free to contact us at:
an Adobe® Acrobat (pdf) copy of this page.