One of the biggest challenges in designing a website is that you have to really understand how your website will be used. Most people consider a website to be a marketing tool or an infomercial. While that is true, it is often much more. It provides a portal for existing customers to get more detailed information on your products or services in real time. This promotes increased business and reduces your selling expenses. It allows your employees to get the information they need easily too. It allows your customers to get “do it yourself” customer service without calling or waiting for an email response.
So there are two groups of users: those who are new to your site and those who visit the site regularly. A successful website needs to address both groups by:
- Communicating the main idea of the organization for new visitors: Have you ever visited a website whose home page was so cluttered you had no idea what the main idea was? Perhaps it had special offers everywhere or maybe it had too much detail to digest at a glance. Aside from avoiding clutter, the most recognizable websites have a memorable logo, meme or main image AND a slogan or tag line that sticks.
- Provides a compelling reason for exploring the organization: There are many things that can set you apart depending on your niche and market. Sometimes it might be testimonial. For others, it might be a summary/ teaser of research you have done. Other websites might feature a product that has public interest or a curiosity factor especially when there has been press coverage of the product area or need.
This mostly applies to new visitors but don’t discount your returning users. If your website is used by employees, you want to keep them proud of the organization where they work. For vendors and returning customers, they will want to know of new products and initiatives in your organization.
- Provides clear navigation to allow users/ visitors to explore more. Once you have the interest, you want to provide the most important information on the home page and/or landing pages. Not all the information should appear here. People are used to clicking to get more information but they will turn away from pages that are cluttered.
Use alternative navigation paths besides menus. Keep menu names consistent with other websites so that visitors don’t have to guess what is on following pages. Colors and graphics help draw attention to important topics or products apart from menus. Use these expeditiously and avoid overkill.
The key with choosing your style is to have it represent you and still be functional. The best example of an ugly website that works is Craigslist. It's brand is based on utility with no cost involved. So a bland website communicates that well.
Full width background image-
This concept has been in circulation for years and is still popular. It works best when your product appeal is visual e.g. anything that has status associated with it. Images can also be added to menus to brighten up your site. The images can be sized and appear on rollover.
Vertical scrolling menus-
This is often combined with full width images. This is a rather new concept and can be executed effectively when the contrast between the images and the navigation does not conflict. It is definitely makes a statement for the organization but may confuse older people not used to scrolling.