I’ve recently started picking up a lot more design work. I was working mostly as a developer. But my partners who give me development work weren’t keeping me busy enough so I started picking up projects and doing design and development work myself. I’ve done design in the past but I really wanted to take my design work up to the next level and really started studying what makes a good looking website.
One of the things I noticed is that when I look at a site to gauge how good it is I view it differently then as a visitor. As someone who works in web design and development I spend a lot of time judging websites. How does my competitors look? Does this new clients current website suck? Does my site look great? When I am doing this I’m not actually reading content etc… Like I would if I was a normal visitor. Instead I’m looking at the site as one big picture. One of the things that I am especially attracted to is nice brightly colored headers. That’s the top of the website and a nice bright color sure looks great when you are starting at the top and looking down. I also appreciate a nice colorful background. Or even better a website that uses an actual photo for a background instead of just a pattern. I’m not talking about behind the page content. I like that white. But on either side of the page content? I love it.
Another thing that catches my eye and can look really slick is when there is an image background just behind the headline text stretching all the way across the page or slideshows with the headline text over top of the slides. Can look really nice and catch the eye.
When I am actually visiting a website as a normal visitor it’s because I am trying to find out some information. Most of the time this means that I have to read the content of the website. Guess what? Those nice brightly colored high saturation headers and menus that caught my eye and looked great when I was just judging aesthetics? Now they are still catching my eye but it’s annoying because I am trying to read something in the content area and I’m getting distracted by these. Same goes for those nice backgrounds on either side of the page. Kind of pull my eyes off target. Another thing that goes for both of these areas is that when I am judging a website aesthetically I am looking at it for a couple seconds. Maybe 5 max. Those beautiful colors are burning my eyes when I am actually looking at the page for a few minutes or more at a time.
It used to be you scrolled down the page and at least the header and menu went away. But now with a lot of sites using a sticky header you are looking at that header the whole time. So even if there is an entire books worth of content on that page you will never quit staring at that header as no matter how far down you scroll it’s still there.
Now obviously I don’t actually believe a website should look “bad” to be a “good” website. Maybe you don’t agree with me when it comes to these colors and what looks good from a design perspective. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s important to keep the target audience in mind and design accordingly. Because even if you use less eye catching colors in your design there may be something else you over look that seems great at first when the site is viewed. But gets old real fast when the site is actually used.
An example is a website I once worked on. The “designer” loved movement on his websites. This particular site had a slideshow at the top. Below that there was a row of three quotes in speech bubbles with a small image of the speaker. These quotes would change every few seconds and of course they were of different lengths. So the speech bubbles would change in height to fit the content and this would push the content below it down. Thus as these quotes changed the next row of content would move up and down each time. What was the content below? Of course it was an auto carousel of logos. Below that? Another moving carousel of different logos. All of this was tight enough together that on a large monitor it was all visible at once. So you have a slideshow moving, quotes with images coming and going ever few seconds and rising up and down as it does, logos on auto carousel continually scrolling across the page and getting pushed up and down with the content above and then another row of the same auto carousel effect. We may have differed on our opinion of this from a design perspective. Him thinking it rocked and me hating it. But I think if we were visitors to the website trying to actually read the content on the page and figure out where to go next I think we would have both agreed that it was too much.
When you are designing make sure that you don’t get so carried away with making it look great for that 2 second “yea looks good” test and actually stop to consider how long the “real” visitors will look at it and design accordingly. Maybe you’re designing a website that is only supposed to showcase your design and actually has no written content. Then you can get away with something a little louder like this. But if you are designing a website with 5000 words on each page then maybe you tone down the site a bit because people are going to be on the same page looking at the same things for a long time. I’m not telling you what the site should look like or what colors you can or can’t use. Just keep the sites purpose in mind when you are designing.