Web Design Best Practices (part 1)

Clients often ask - heck, I often ask myself - what best practices should be followed when designing a website. I'm sorry to inform you that there is no formula for the perfect website. In fact, it could be argued that every website is as unique as the organization behind it.

That doesn't mean there aren't principles that should be adhered to (or at least acknowledged). I'll share some insights that should help as you consider what should be on your site, and how it should be designed: page layout; navigation; user-centred design; accessibility; how to improve your site through iterations; and features that should be included. I'm going to start with the complicated question of

When designing a website, people consider
what they want to include in the site before they consider why elements are included. This is a mistake. The first, and most important feature of a well-designed website, is the user-friendly way in which the consistency of the organization’s business and communication objectives meet with the designed end-result. Put another way for the sake of clarity, this means that every element – from content, design, navigation and interactive features – must be considered in light of the organization’s intentions. Only those items that advance your goals should be included.

With the advent of social media, users have come to expect a broader range of tools available to them on websites. Many sites incorporate sound and video into their sites, and provide sophisticated feedback mechanisms, planning tools, easy-to-fill contact forms, enabling saving and forwarding page-level information, and access to tools such as live chatting. It is important to remember that interactive tools should always be used in response to an organization’s objectives. For example, where video and sound files may help one company sell more products, another organization may find a calendar tool is very valuable to respond to end users’ needs to form communities around common events.

This does not mean that every website is radically different from every other website. End users have developed expectations for how they interact with sites over the past decade of website usage. In terms employed by the user experience community, these are often referred to as “affordances”. For example, users expect there to be a “contact us” page on every website and that usually "contact us" is included in the site's header.

If there is one formula for a well-designed site, it would be: your communication and business intentions + your users' intentions = success. In other words, provide what you need to further your goals in a way that is easily grasped by your valuable and time-pressed end users.

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